Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Wall Came Tumbling Down

Do you remember much about the end of the Cold War? The significance of November 9, 1989? Such a momentous event as the crumbling of the Berlin Wall came about by accident. I’ve been reading When the World Seemed New; George H. W. Bush and the End of the Cold War, by Jeffrey A. Engel, which details this critical period of recent history.
Eastern Europeans were demonstrating for more freedom. The Soviet Union wasn’t stopping them. The satellite countries’ leaders were in a quandary. With no help from the Soviets, what should they do?
In East Germany, General Secretary Erich Honecker fell from power, replaced by Egon Krenz. Krenz wasn’t popular. He begged Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev for help. “After all, the GDR is in a sense the child of the Soviet Union, and one must acknowledge paternity of one’s children.”
All Gorbachev did was advise maintaining East Germany’s integrity, even if it meant loosening the borders.
Hoping new travel regulations would pacify the thousands of protesters, on November 9th, Krenz gave his spokesman, Günter Schabowski a paper describing the new reforms. They would be released on the weekend.
Schabowski’s news conferences were boring affairs as he plodded through reading pronouncements, capable of putting newsmen to sleep. He stuffed the paper into his briefcase without looking at it and headed to the news room.
Asked about the government’s long-promised travel reforms, Schabowski dug out the paper and stumbled through it, forgetting it wasn’t to be made public just yet. The newsmen perked up. Here was something significant. When would the new regulations go into effect?
Schabowski changed the course of history. “As far as I am aware, immediately. Without delay.”
The news sped around the world. Crowds gathered at Berlin’s crossing points, demanding to cross. The border guards had heard nothing of a new travel policy.
At the Bornholmer Strasse gate, Harald Jäger repeatedly called his superiors for confirmation. He received none, only an insult. Was he “capable of assessing the situation, or simply a coward?”
Not wanting bloodshed, he ordered the gate opened. Hundreds of people streamed through. They danced on the wall. Freedom came to East Germany, all because a spokesman misspoke.

A preserved section of the Berlin Wall is now an art gallery.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Christmas Cards

In 1843 England, Henry Cole had too much correspondence to keep up with. Not answering all the letters he received at Christmastime would be impolite. Then he got an idea
An artist friend illustrated a scene he had in mind, a family celebrating the holiday at the table, bordered by images of people helping the poor. Cole had a thousand copies made by a London printer on stiff cardboard. At the top was the salutation, “To: _____” along with “A Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year to You.” Cole added his friends’ names and sent out the first Christmas cards.

An 1877 card doesn't look Christmassy.
A German immigrant created the first Christmas card in the United States in 1875. Louis Prang’s card featured a painting of a flower and read “Merry Christmas.” Early American Christmas cards were beautiful, but didn’t contain a Christmas or holiday image.
Modern Christmas cards began in 1915, when a postcard printing company started by Joyce Hall in Kansas City, published its first Christmas card. He was joined by his brothers, Rollie and William, and the Hall Brothers Company adapted a four-inch-wide by six-inch-high format, folded once, and inserted into an envelope. Postcards didn't have enough room for folks who wanted to write a short message, but not a whole letter. A decade later, the company changed its name to Hallmark.

The service star was a frequent theme in many WWI cards.
During World War I, sending cards to soldiers was considered a good way to boost morale. Many combined patriotic and religious symbols, while others sought funds to support war orphans or refugees. Cards sent during World War II differed in spirit and appearance. Many WWII cards made no reference to the war, but conveyed a longing for peace with an underlying optimism.

 Resource: Smithsonian magazine

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

It Happened One December Blizzard

Danz School had four kindergarten classes, two in the morning and two in the afternoon. I attended a morning class. A school bus brought everyone in K through 6 to school, and at noon, a bus took the kindergarteners home.
That was fine, until one December morning, a blizzard blew in. Schools closed, and the buses came to take everyone home. That was not exactly fine. Used to a single bus, I didn’t know which bus to board. I got on one with my friend, Heidi. That was the correct bus for Heidi, but not for me.
Fortuitously, we were seated on the front seat. The bus driver quickly realized she had a misplaced 5-year-old. Ignoring the worsening weather and her busload of normal kids, she headed for my home.

I don’t remember if I was able to give directions. My sister may have had friends on that bus, but would a second-grader be able to direct the driver to an unfamiliar home? That remains a mystery. This was years before cell phones, and I don’t recall if the driver was able to radio to the bus hub.
My sister, of course, boarded the right bus, and had gotten off at our usual stop, a block up the hill from our home at the dead end. She rushed down the street, anxious to tell our parents that I hadn’t been on the bus. Suddenly, another bus rumbled down the street.
My dad had been in the garage, and heard a commotion outside. Looking out, he found a school bus in our driveway, and I hopped off.
God bless the driver who went the extra mile (actually, probably more like ten miles) to deliver a lost child to her front door.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The B-26

I chose the B-17 for my Promise For Tomorrow series because I was most familiar with big bomber. I’d read Robert Vaughan’s Touch the Face of God and loved it. The B-17’s crew of nine or ten men offered a supporting cast of characters for my hero to interact with. And it looks good. The other big American bomber, the B-24, was nicknamed the pregnant cow. Does that sound like an appealing star vehicle?
Although I didn’t know it when I wrote Friends & Enemies, other authors also featured the B-17. If I were to start over, I might use the B-26 Marauder, a medium bomber. The B-25 Mitchell is famous for Doolittle’s raid on Japan in April, 1942, but who’s familiar with the B-26?

The B-26 was nicknamed the Widow Maker. It required a higher landing speed than most bombers and demanded maximum attention to the airspeed indicator on final approach and landing. The motto at the main training base in Tampa, Florida, was “One a Day in Tampa Bay.”
Congress considered cancelling B-26 production , but General Doolittle proved it was a formidable weapon and needed only upgraded training and slight airframe correction. A demonstration of a B-26 maneuvering on one engine showed it could be handled safely. The plane was removed from the congressional hit list, and modifications were complete by February, 1943.

Pilots received better training in knowledge of aircraft handling and engine performance anomalies. Aerodynamic modifications increased the wingspan along with larger fins and rudders. With its improved take-off, landing, and handling, the Marauder gained a reputation for reliability and performance.
The operational loss rate of the B-26 throughout the war was .422%, best of any WWII bomber. Many of the planes flew over one hundred missions.
Few exist today. Only one, at Fantasy of Flight in Polk City, Florida, is flyable.
I like to highlight lesser known aspects of World War II. I missed my chance with the Marauder.

for further reading: Back From 44: The Sacrifice and Courage of a Few by Nick Cressy, an airman's memoir

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

I Like Harry

I like Harry Truman, so I was pleased to hear about a new book, The Accidental President by A. J. Baime, a great story focusing primarily on the four months between his rise to the presidency and the end of the war.

His earlier life is covered, with particular attention to his brief tenure as vice president. He served as an artillery captain in World War I. Before going to France, he and Eddie Jacobson, “a fine Jewish boy,” organized their battery’s canteen, or supply shop. They did a booming business, which gave him the opportunity to test for the captaincy. In France, he took charge of Battery D of the 129th Field Artillery, the most incorrigible unit in the service. Other commanders had failed to bring the men into line. Harry let them know he was the boss and never had trouble with them.
After the war, in November of 1919, he and Eddie opened a haberdashery. Then a recession hit. By the spring of 1922, they were out of business. It took Harry years to pay off his debts.
Harry had served in the war with Jim Pendergast. Jim’s father, Mike, and uncle, Tom, ran the Kansas City Democratic political machine, and Mike suggested Harry run for county judge. Harry did, and won. The county judges controlled the salaries of municipal employees, and typically got kickbacks, but not Harry. Honesty was the major plank of his platform.
When the Pendergasts suggested he run for senator, he agreed. The Pendergast machine got him elected, and many senators refused to speak to “the Senator from Pendergast.” The boss did ask him to vote certain ways, which Harry did on inconsequential matters, but he always sided with FDR. “Back Roosevelt” had been his campaign slogan.
After Harry was nominated to be vice president in 1944, he realized when he met with the obviously ailing FDR that he would not remain the vice president for long. When he campaigned for Roosevelt’s fourth term, he said, “Ask yourself if you want a man with no experience to sit at the peace table with Churchill, Stalin, and Chiang Kai-shek.” Ironically, he would be that inexperienced man.
Truman’s style is contrasted with FDR’s. He came into the presidency totally unprepared, but I suspect he did a better job than Roosevelt would have. Roosevelt was too willing to acquiesce to Stalin, whereas Truman stood firm.
One huge difference between Truman and his predecessor was how they dealt with their cabinets. Roosevelt enjoyed causing discord among the cabinet members and watching them bicker. How can you efficiently run a government that way? Truman surrounded himself with a team that would work together. He didn’t ramble on at meetings as FDR had, but got to the point and moved on, to the astonishment of the cabinet members.

Truman didn’t have the formal education expected of a president, but he was widely read, and his very ordinariness is what made him great.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Ford Survives Typhoon

My short story, “Typhoon Prompting,” part of The Hope of Christmas, takes place during Typhoon Cobra. The navy’s Pacific combat fleet was caught in a storm that capsized three destroyers. One of them, the Spence, was featured in Wheresoever They May Be.
Among the ships battling the storm was the Monterey, a light aircraft carrier. Among the Monterey’s crew was a young lieutenant, Gerald R. Ford.

Gerald Ford, the jumper on the left, plays basketball on the Monterey's hangar deck.

Ford was one of ten gunnery officers and also served as the ship’s athletic director. During the typhoon, the ship rolled twenty-five degrees, causing him to fall and slide the full width of the flight deck. He managed to catch the two-inch metal rim around the deck with his foot, breaking his momentum and allowing him to land on the narrow catwalk just below the deck.
The airplanes on the Monterey’s flight deck broke loose as the ship pitched and heaved, and were swept overboard. Planes on the hangar deck crashed into each other. Fire broke out. The men raced to drag bombs and torpedoes out of harm’s way and dump them overboard. Smoke funneled into the engine and boiler rooms, forcing crewmen to flee or be asphyxiated. Three of four boilers stopped, and the ship was in danger of losing power.

The USS Monterey rolls in the typhoon.

Admiral Halsey ordered them to abandon ship, and ordered nearby cruisers and destroyers to pick up survivors, no easy task in a typhoon. The men of Monterey fought the fires for forty minutes and saved their ship. Three men died, forty were injured, ten critically, and all their planes were lost.
One of the survivors was Gerald Ford. Had he gone overboard, it is extremely doubtful we would have had a President Ford.

Releasing on Nov. 24, The Hope of Chrismas

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Say What?

In my role as a genre coordinator in the ACFW First Impressions contest, I check judges’ comments to make sure they don’t promote their own books or make disparaging comments. One comment caught my eye. The entrant used too many big words. Try writing at the fourth grade level.
I remembered that when I did final edits for The Hope of Christmas, the soon-to-be-released collection of historical Christmas short stories. An editor didn’t know the meaning of opined in my story, “Typhoon Prompting.”
Do you know what “opine” means?
I wrestled with that all weekend. I like the word. Otherwise I wouldn’t have used it. But the judge’s remark kept coming back to me. Readers don’t want to hold a book in one hand and a dictionary in the other. What to do?
Early Monday morning, before submitting my edited manuscript, I listened to the judge and changed the word.

The Hope of Christmas is now available for pre-order. Included are a prairie mail-order bride story, a WWII American woman doctor in London, and my offering, “Typhoon Prompting.” A character from Wheresoever They May Be shows up. Care to guess who? I’ll give you a hint. Who suffered a bad case of sunburn?

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

What Time Is It?

Did everyone remember to turn back the clocks on Saturday night or first thing Sunday morning? Do you like this exercise in futility? I mean, really, where’s the savings? You may not have to turn on a light in the morning, depending on what time you wake, but you’ll have to turn on the lights on hour earlier in the evening.
Daylight-saving time was imposed by the federal government during World War I with the notion it would conserve fuel. Hostility led to the measure’s repeal after the war. The federal government gave the states the option of continuing the time change if they wanted.
The majority of Wisconsinites didn’t want to. Farmers, especially, didn’t appreciate the havoc it caused with cow-milking and field work.
City folk were more in favor of it. Milwaukee tested of version of “fast time,” and the state legislature made it illegal to use anything but Central Standard Time. Some businesses changed their own clocks in 1930, and the following year, punishments were enacted. A businessman could go to jail for 30 days and have to pay a $50 fine.
“War time” came back with World War II. After the war, neighboring states allowed daylight-saving time, and many business groups pushed for Wisconsin to join them. Not until 1957 was the change adopted through a statewide referendum.
During the long fight to make the change, the Milwaukee Journal ran an ad, “For Sunlight’s sake…for Daylight’s sake…for Recreation’s sake…for Leisure’s sake…for Health’s sake…for better living, vote Yes.”

So the clocks have been changed. But it still doesn’t change the number of hours of daylight.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Hank and Jim

I read a new book called Hank and Jim: The Fifty-Year Friendship of Henry Fonda and James Stewart, by Scott Eyman. What an interesting book!

I’d always heard about Henry Fonda’s poor relationship with his daughter, Jane, but didn’t understand why it was so. I still don’t. Jane describes him as a pent-up guy, but his friendship with Jimmy Stewart was as intimate as he ever got with anyone. Together, they relaxed and had fun, which they couldn’t do separately.
They were both tall and skinny, laconic and shy, loners, with the same sense of humor―wry and goofy. They shared an apartment in New York in the 30s with Myron McCormick and Josh Logan, subsisting on rice. They attended art openings and gorged on hors d’oeuvres. Together, they built model airplanes.
Much has been written about Stewart’s war years as a B-24 pilot. Fonda served as an naval intelligence officer aboard the USS Curtiss in the Pacific. When a kamikaze was shot down and crashed twenty-five yards from the Curtiss, Fonda and two sailors dived on the plane and recovered maps and flight plans. Fonda determined the kamikazes launched from Pagan Island in the Marianas. An air strike stopped them.
Fonda had been aloof before the war; afterwards, he was remote. The silence during car rides or at the dinner table unnerved his children. He rediscovered his dad’s hobby of kites in the Navy, and began flying them, as large as possible, after the war. He’d be quiet and stressed until the kite was airborne, then become exuberant as a kid.
Both actors took a while to re-establish their acting careers. Fonda preferred the stage in New York and could go for years without making a movie. Stewart preferred making movies in California. Years could pass without them seeing each other.
In his later years, Fonda stitched complicated needlepoint patterns he designed himself. Most needlework on chairs and pillows in his home were his work. He also made macramé baskets. Like Stewart, he was an avid gardener and also kept bees.
Little is said about Fonda’s relationship with his parents, who both died in the 1930s. Stewart’s father never lightened up with his son, even when Jim was in his 50s. Many people remembered Fonda as cold. Stewart was easy-going, but no one really got to know him. Only when they acted did they show emotion.
Hank and Jim offers a fascinating look at two long-gone screen icons.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

One of the Four Chaplains

I found a treasure in a library book sale in Florida last week. War Letters; Extraordinary Correspondence From American Wars. Letters are preserved from the Civil War through Bosnia. Of particular interest to me are those from the two world wars.
Among the World War II letters are two from Alexander Goode to his sweetheart/wife. Although his name wasn’t familiar, I immediately recognized his situation. He was one of the Four Chaplains.
In January, 1943, the Dorchester, a coastal liner converted to a troop ship carried 902 men to Europe. The small convoy consisted of two other ships and three Coast Guard cutters. When the Dorchester was only 150 miles from its destination, they were discovered by a German wolf-pack.
At 12:55 a.m. February 3, 1943, a torpedo slammed into the vessel, destroying the electrical system and creating panic.
Four chaplains were aboard the ship: one priest, one rabbi, and two Protestant ministers. In the pandemonium, Lieutenants George L. Fox, Alexander D. Goode, Clark V. Poling, and John P. Washington calmed the men, distributed life jackets, and directed them to the lifeboats. When they ran out of vests, the chaplains removed their own and gave them to the soldiers.
Survivors watching the ship go down saw the four chaplains link arms and brace themselves on the slanting deck. They could be heard praying.

In 1933, Alexander Goode recognized the danger for Jews in Germany. He wrote to his sweetheart that Germany’s expulsion of Jews was their loss and America’s gain. He believed there would be no difficulty in their entering America. “This country will be glad to have them.”
I would what he thought as the years passed and no country wanted to admit Jews.
Ten years later, he wrote a last farewell to his now-wife. “Don’t worry—I’ll be coming back much sooner than you think.”

It was the last his wife ever heard from him.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The World's Largest Signboard

When was the last time you read a Science and Mechanics magazine from 1937? Not lately? You missed an interesting article!

When was the last time you saw writing in the sky? Today, it seems to be more common to see planes towing banners.

Skywriting began after the First World War. A British war ace wrote DAILY MAIL over the Epson Downs racetrack during the running of the derby in 1922. In October of that year, an American wrote high above New York, HELLO USA CALL VANDERBILT 7200. That was the phone number of the Hotel Vanderbilt in New York. The switchboard was swamped for over five hours.
Skywriting is performed nearly three miles above the earth. Each letter is approximately one mile high, and writing a phrase may take eight miles. Each letter is written on either a higher or lower plane than its predecessor. When crossing a “T”, the cross bar is at least 50 feet higher. Otherwise, propeller wash blows away part of the work already completed.

Wind doesn’t break up skywriting. It carries the message along, intact. A message written over the Chicago loop was read in Michigan City an hour and a half later. Writing will be broken up by intermittent gusts or rising and falling air currents.

The pilot carries a chart showing him exactly where to turn on and shut off the smoke. The writing is done on a horizontal plane, rather than vertical, and is written backwards so it is readable from the ground.

In the days before computer assistance, skywriting seemed to be a sixth sense. Some pilots took to it like a duck to water. Others just didn't.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Who Doesn't Like a Gregory Peck Movie?

In a recent Facebook post, I asked, if you had been in the service during WWII, which celebrity visitor would you have asked for an autograph from? One answer was Gregory Peck. Who doesn’t admire the aristocratic actor with the voice that is, according to one obituary, “a sonorous mix of strength and tenderness.”

Wondering about his World War II military service, I discovered he didn’t serve.
He was an English major who planned on becoming a doctor, but while he was at Berkeley, he was recruited to appear in plays. He became an actor.

Born Eldred Gregory Peck in April, 1916, he dropped the Eldred and headed to New York after graduation. Money was tight; he sometimes slept in Central Park. He began appearing in plays in 1941.
Acting jobs kept him busy during World War II. He was exempt from military duty due to a back injury he suffered in a Martha Graham dance class. Twentieth Century Fox would say he suffered the injury while rowing for Berkeley. According to Peck, “In Hollywood, they didn’t think a dance class was macho enough, I guess.”

Although he didn't serve in the military, Peck acted in several war movies,
including 12 O'Clock High and Guns of Navarone.

He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor four times in his first five years of acting, eventually winning the Oscar in 1962 for “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
The 6’3” actor was a lifelong Democrat. Had President Johnson sought re-election in 1968, he would have offered Peck the ambassadorship to Ireland. With his Irish ancestry, Peck said he may have taken the job. In 1987, Peck did voice-overs for television commercials opposing President Reagan’s nomination of Robert Bork for the Supreme Court.
Peck married his first wife in 1942 and fathered three sons. During the marriage, he had a brief affair with co-star Ingrid Bergman. On New Year’s Day, 1956, the day after his divorce, he married his second wife, Veronique, a Paris reporter who had interviewed him in 1952. They had a son and a daughter.

Gregory Peck died on June 12, 2003, of bronchopneumonia. He was 87.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

How Stark is Too Stark?

Some reviews of my new book, Wheresoever They May Be, warn of disturbing or inappropriate scenes. In a way, I can appreciate the concern over disturbing scenes. Blood and guts are not a favorite topic of mine.
But all four of my books are about World War II, and I refuse to sugarcoat war. It is full of horrific injuries, gruesome deaths, and rebuilding shattered lives, whether in the war zone or far away on the home front. I do not try to glorify war.
Are stark war scenes inappropriate? Maybe the label of the “Japs” disturbed the reviewer. Today, such a moniker is politically incorrect, but during the war years, that was one of the nicer references to the enemy.

For too many people, war doesn’t conclude with a happy ending. Wheresoever doesn’t end with a wedding and happily ever after, but the possibility of hope for the future and happiness.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES)

Prodded by his wife Eleanor, President Roosevelt signed the women’s naval reserve corps into law on July 30, 1942. Mildred McAfee, president of Wellesley College, was sworn in as a naval reserve lieutenant commander, the first female commissioned officer of the U.S. Navy and the first director of the WAVES.

Officer candidates were required to be between 20 and 49, and have a college degree, or two years of college and two years of equivalent professional or business experience. The enlisted age requirements were between 20 and 35, with a high school or business diploma, or equivalent experience.
By early August, women from every state had applied for the general navy service positions offered in Bainbridge, Maryland. An intensive 12-week training course involved eight-hour days of classroom study. The women, equivalent to yeomen, were trained to perform secretarial and clerical functions. They did much more than that, performing duties in aviation, the Judge Advocate General Corps, medical professions, communications, intelligence, science and technology. Some of their job titles during WWII included Aviation Machinist's Mates, Aviation Metalsmiths, Control Tower Operators, Aerographer's Mates, Link Trainer Instructors, and Parachute Riggers.
By fall of 1942, the U.S. Navy had 10,000 women for active service. The navy established the WAVES to perform the same assignments as the women in the army.
For the position of control tower operations, the preferred candidate had to meet the following criteria: be 25 to 30 years old, have 20/20 vision, normal auditory acuity, speaking ability, and quick reactions in stressful situations.

Recognizing their natural talents and the ability to perform as well or better than men, the Bureau of Aeronautics restricted aviator operator positions to the WAVES in the fall of 1942.
WAVE parachute riggers were not required to do so could jump to test the chutes, but after WAVE Kathleen Robertson went beyond her normal duties of inspecting, repairing and packing parachutes, and successfully executed a jump, WAVES were allowed to jump. At least one third of the WAVES were assigned to naval aviation duties during World War II.
The women served at 900 shore stations in the United States. The territory of Hawaii was the only overseas station allowed. They were prohibited from serving aboard ships.
For the women, joining the navy was a broadening experience in which they formed lifelong friendships.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Fly GIrls

General “Hap” Arnold admitted it. Women can fly as well as men.
With a severe shortage of pilots in 1942, the United States turned to an experimental program to help fill the void: Train women to fly military aircraft so male pilots could be released for combat duty overseas. There was no military plane not flown by women during World War II.
Over 1,100 women, all civilian volunteers, flew as part of the WASP program. They ferried new planes long distances from factories to military bases and departure points around the country. They tested overhauled planes. They towed targets for training ground and air gunners, who shot with live ammunition.
Pioneering aviator Jacqueline Cochran headed the WASP program. She believed the program would be militarized if it was successful. It was. The women’s safety records were comparable and sometimes even better than male pilots doing the same jobs.

WASP (from left) Frances Green, Margaret Kirchner, Ann Waldner and Blanche Osborn leave their B-17, called Pistol Packin' Mama, during ferry training at Lockbourne Army Air Force base in Ohio. They're carrying their parachutes.
National Archives

At first, the suggestion was made to militarize the WASPs into the Women’s Army Corps. Only one female colonel was allowed, however, and that was Col. Oveta Culp Hobby. Cochran refused to serve under her.
By 1944, the Allies had achieved air superiority in Europe, and pilots were coming home. They were eligible for the draft, and wanted to keep flying. No longer were women needed to release the men for combat. The men wanted to get rid of the women.
Cochran told Arnold to give her charge of a militarized WASP program or disband it. Arnold wasn’t willing to fight her battles anymore; he had a war to win. The WASPs were disbanded.
The women had no benefits, no gold stars for their parents’ windows if they died. And 38 women did die in service. And because they were civilians, the military didn’t pay for their remains to be shipped home. The women took up a collection for that.
In 1976, the Air Force announced they would admit women to their flying program. “It’s the first time that the Air Force has allowed women to fly their aircraft.”
That upset former WASPs. It wasn't true. They had been the first to fly military planes.
Finally, in 1977, the WASP were granted military status.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

You’re in the Auxiliary Army Now

With the necessity of fielding armies to wage a two-front war, America needed more manpower than was available. America needed its women in uniform.
During the in between-war years, studies were conducted on the use of women in World War I. Recommendations were made for the probable use of women in future wars. The final analysis was, don’t put them in auxiliary organizations. Put them in the military with benefits and protection.

At the beginning of World War II in Europe, new planning was uninformed of the earlier recommendations. The conclusion was, yes, women were needed, but under no circumstances should they be given military status.
The Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps was formed in May 1942. Because Congress had dragged its feet in passing the bill creating the WAAC, planners missed out on the training site in Maryland they wanted. Instead, they found a recently vacated horse barn in Des Moines, Iowa. The dormitories smelled like horses.
When the women finally received uniforms, they got whatever sizes they were given. When the army sought publicity for the new uniforms, all the press wanted to know about was the olive drab underwear.
The women’s pay was a rank behind the men’s. Director Oveta Culp Hobby was a colonel with a major’s pay.
The first class of WAACs at Des Moines served as guinea pigs. The army didn’t know how to feed them. Using a survey of business women, they served the WAACs sandwiches and salads, while men ate steak and stew.
Rumors spread. According to one, physicians rejected all virgins. Reporter John O’Donnell wrote in his column Capitol Stuff that the War Department issued prophylactics to all WAACs before they went overseas. These were so the women could fulfill the “morale” purposes for which the army had really recruited them.
An FBI investigation thought to uncover German propaganda, but the smear campaign was homegrown. Soldiers who had never come across any WAACs wrote critically about them in letters home. Wives and mothers resented the women who served overseas in close contact with their men.
Because the women didn’t have military status, they weren’t able to release men for combat, the primary reason for the WAACs. A military position could only be filled by military personnel. Plus, the women could leave their jobs whenever they wanted. The army had become dependent on the women and wanted control over them. It was time to drop “Auxiliary” from the WAAC and put them into the Regular Army. The new bill went to the president’s desk on July 1, 1943, for his signature.

Susan, in Wheresoever They May Be, served in the Women’s Army Corps as a switchboard operator.

Men didn’t have a choice about serving. They were drafted. The women volunteered. They worked long hours with little rest. They faced scorn at home and danger overseas. One hundred eighty-one died in army service.
Mary B. Johnston, a cryptanalyst who had to learn Japanese and Morse code for her job, said, “We were out there to do a job and everybody was dedicated to that job. We were in battle zones and we worked HARD! With something important to do, you get it done and feel good about it, because it can make a difference in the war and because you made a contribution. We all felt a sense of accomplishment and participation.”

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

My Writing Desk

My writing desk is cramped. I think that’s the first impression anyone would get. It’s an old desk left over from school days, squeezed in between the window and my bed.
Outside the window is an evergreen where lots of bird congregate. A bird feeder stands below, attracting woodpeckers, finches, cardinals, chickadees, orioles, and more. They provide entertainment while I write.
My laptop is now nine years old, and it has plenty of quirks. I think it has lasted so long because it does not have internet hookup.
The book behind the laptop is Conquer: The Story of the Ninth Army. This was a primary research source for my grasshopper pilot in Wheresoever They May Be (which is now available!).
Most of the notes have green marks on them. The green indicates they apply to Joe, the pilot. Each of the four main characters had his or her own color. Frank’s, as befitting a navy man, was blue.
On the far left is a floor plan of Lily’s house in Long Beach, California.
The film canister between the lamp and the candle holds sand I scooped up from Omaha Beach, a souvenir from my trip to Normandy years ago.

The desk looks quite neat, but I’ll admit. It was cleaned up for the photo. Normally, there are stacks of books, photocopies, notes, mail, and so much more that you would wonder how I ever manage to complete a project.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Where'd You Get a Name Like That?

My WWII series Promise For Tomorrow features large casts of characters in all three books, so I had to come up with lots of names. In the first book, Friends & Enemies, the main female character lives in Germany. That meant I needed German given names and surnames. The last names were easy. With three quarters of German ancestry, I had plenty of selections to pick from my family tree.
Of the six main Promise characters, only Jennie Lindquist in No Neutral Ground does not have one of my family names. She required a Swedish surname, and I have no Swedish ancestry.
Cemeteries are a good place for me to find era-appropriate given names. I first spelled Jennie’s name with a –y, but changed it after seeing the –ie on tombstones. For all the airmen at Ridgewell Air Base, a base roster offered plenty of WWII possibilities, like Herb, Harold, Willard, Homer, and Clyde.
Deciding on names I like is important for the main characters, because I’ll be living with them for at least a year as the writing is in progress, and beyond once the book is published.
Some names are strictly for fun. I didn’t tell a friend I’d used her maiden name in No Neutral Ground, or her married name in Soar Like Eagles. When my next book, Wheresoever They May Be, releases next week, she’ll find another surprise.

Frank Savage of TV's 12 O'Clock High. 

Wheresoever is unique in that I didn’t use family names. Instead, I turned to television. The 1960s TV series, 12 O’Clock High, featured B-17s and was a big help when I wrote my series. The episode “Decoy” showed a ditching and how the Gibson Girl radio was used to signal for help. The first base commander was Frank Savage, followed by Joe Gallagher. My two main male characters in Wheresoever are Frank Swanson and Joe Gallagher.
The chaplain in the Promise For Tomorrow series is Kyle Hogan. Yes, he got his name from Hogan’s Heroes. I’ve also used Newkirk from that show, but don’t remember which book. That’s the problem with casts of dozens.
In my work in progress, I wanted a name I’d easily remember for the main character’s boss. A former boss of mine is named Marley S. The fictional boss is Martin Sopard. The surname is my boss’ name with a slight alteration.

For two Irishmen, I scrolled through an Irish names website and found Burke and Caffrey. Can you guess the TV show that prompted me to combine those names?

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

What's Coming in Two Weeks

After eight years of thinking, breathing, researching B-17s, I was ready to disembark and concentrate on something else. But what? I had a vague idea of three friends who joined the WAC, the WAVES, and the WASPs, but nothing crystalized. Except for the WAC.
I didn’t want to completely turn away from flying, and I prefer topics that aren’t commonly known. How about a grasshopper pilot? My second character was on board.
I had toyed with the idea of a family generational series. A World War II story paired with a World War I story. But no, too unwieldy.
The WAC could have a sister, though, who stayed on the home front and did factory work. Oh, dear. I couldn’t completely stay away from B-17s. She’s building them.
She also needs a husband. He’ll be in the navy, and not on an aircraft carrier. A destroyer! (This was in the works before Sarah Sundin signed a contract for her just-concluded series about destroyer men. I checked with her: She was writing about the Atlantic war; my guy’s in the Pacific. No problem.) I studied the list of Pacific destroyers and, oooh, the Spence. All kinds of possibilities there.

So there I had it: a sailor, his Rosie-the-Riveter wife, her WAC sister, and a grasshopper pilot. They’re all doing their part to help win the war, but sometimes the enemy isn’t obvious.

In two weeks, the new book is available!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Under Fire

When I first read Linda Matchett's new novel Under Fire, the setting of Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire resonated with me. I've been there. Also the mention of the classic boats, which during World War II were not classic, but contemporary.
     Set in World War II, it ranges from New Hampshire to England to Ireland, and back to England. Questions often come to mind while reading and this time, I had the opportunity to ask Linda about Under Fire.

Lake Winnipesaukee

I recognized Lake Winnipesaukee right away, but it’s not named. Why? Too big a mouthful?
LOL! Most people do stumble over the name the first few times they try to say it (BTW, it’s pronounced win-eh-peh-sock-ee). I decided that writing about a fictional location would be easier. With all the WWII research I had to do to ensure historical accuracy, I didn’t want to have to research the town’s history too.

When I attended a classic boat show on Lake Winnipesaukee in the 80s, it rained.

Since my family’s business is publishing Classic Boating magazine, I was right at home reading about Chris-Craft and Lyman boats. (Yes, those wartime boats are classics now.) Have they been part of your life?
Not at all. I grew up boating on the Potomac River with my dad in his twelve-foot Jon boat. I was unfamiliar with wooden lake boats until we moved to New Hampshire. I’ve had several opportunities to ride in Lymans and Chris-Crafts, and there’s nothing like the experience. The gorgeous wooden hull, cushy interior, throaty snarl of the engine, the speed across open water.

Ruth lives a very adventurous life, traipsing of to London on her own in wartime, sneaking into places and spying on bad guys. Do you live vicariously through your characters? Is this the way you’d like to see yourself?
I have definitely lived vicariously through Ruth. She is much braver than I am in many ways. I have a fear of heights and am claustrophobic, so I admired her ability to scale walls and fences and squeeze into tiny hiding places. I also get lost easily, so I can’t imagine having to navigate a city where the signs have been removed.

Under Fire is full of twists and turns. Did you plot the novel before writing or did ideas come as you wrote?
I did plot the novel before I began. The first full length story I wrote as an adult was done free form, and it lagged and sagged in the middle, and I often got writer’s block. Since then I’ve always outlined my books. I also write extensive biographies for my characters. I allow my characters to wander “off script,” and sometimes an idea will come to me and I’ll change what I had planned, but for the most part I know generally how the story is going to go.
Where did the inspiration for Under Fire come from? 
As a former HR professional, I am intrigued about women’s employment experiences in the early 20th Century. I love reading about women who were trailblazers in their field, and I’ve got a background in journalism.  When I learned that only 127 of the 1,600 certified war correspondents were women, I knew what I wanted my protagonist to do for a living. Once I had nailed that down, I decided to explore how the WWII impacted people’s faith in God (e.g. how could a loving God allow Hitler to succeed, etc.), and I wanted Ruth to experience a personal crisis of faith as well. That’s when I decided to make her sister disappear.

I’ve just read your novella A Love Not Forgotten. Parts seemed familiar and sure enough, it’s a companion to your Love’s Harvest. Do you anticipate Ruth showing up in a future project?
I’ve got two more Ruth Brown mysteries written with several story ideas percolating.

What are you working on next?
I am working on a mystery about a young woman who joins the USO to escape an arranged marriage. When her fiancé is found dead, she must prove her innocence.

Stay tuned!

Under Fire Blurb: Journalist Ruth Brown’s sister Jane is pronounced dead after a boating accident in April 1942. Because Jane’s body is missing, Ruth is convinced her sister is still alive. During her investigation, Ruth becomes suspicious about Jane’s job. Eventually Ruth follows clues to war-torn London. By the time she uncovers the truth about Jane’s disappearance, she has stumbled on black marketers, resistance fighters and the IRA – all of whom may want her dead.

Bio: Linda Shenton Matchett is a journalist, blogger, and author. Born in Baltimore, Maryland, a stone’s throw from Fort McHenry, Linda has lived in historical places most of her life. She is a volunteer docent at the Wright Museum of WWII and as a Trustee for the Wolfeboro Public Library. Active in her church Linda serves as treasurer, usher, choir member, and Bible study leader. She is author of several romance novellas. Under Fire, the first in her trilogy about amateur sleuth/war correspondent Ruth Brown has just been released by eLectio Publishing ( Click here ( to receive Linda’s monthly newsletter that includes book reviews, links to free book sites, historical tidbits, and more.