My father died in the 1980s. I often wonder what his life would have been like if he’d lived another 30 years or so. I know my mother would have been far happier.
After his death, my mom and I were going through a trunk and discovered a list of dates and place names that chronicled my dad’s World War II experience. It detailed when and where he was located from when he signed up in Ponca City, Oklahoma, until he returned to Ponca City three years later. We also found lists of names of those in his immediate unit and a few photographs of where he had been. He was a ground-based aircraft detection radar operator in the Army Signal Corps, so he was always close to the fighting, but never in it.
My dad was in England for a year then landed on Omaha Beach on July 3rd, 1944, twenty-six days after D-Day. He traveled with the Seventh Army as it progressed through Normandy, and was close to Paris when it was liberated. He went north into Belgium and Holland, and then back down until he was in a little Belgium town call Bastogne. His radar was considered classified, so his radar unit escaped west out of Bastogne as the German army was attacking on the east.
After the Battle of the Bulge, his unit was assigned to Patton’s Third Army and went into Germany. He was in Czechoslovakia when the war ended; he returned home on the Queen Mary in November, 1945.
I was stunned by what the list revealed. I’d never talked to him about the war because, I guess, I never thought to ask. That was a great mistake on my part. I did research on the locations in the list and built a comprehensive map (using Goggle) of his route during the campaign. I also researched the kind of radar he operated and found several on-line sources describing its history and the tactical operations.
From this research, I thought of an idea for a war story.
In January, I started a new novel. It evolved into a love story set against the background of World War II. I never thought I’d write a love story, but the more I got into it, the more it moved that direction. I’ve gotten most of the plot and the scenes mapped out, but I’ve decided that it takes being there to write the realism that the story deserves.
In October, I’m on the way to Normandy. Accompanied by one of my sons, I’m spending time in London to visit the Imperial War Museum and Churchill’s war-time bunkers, and then will ride the train beneath the English Channel to Paris, and then to Bayeux, Normandy for three days. Bayeux is about six miles from Omaha Beach. I’ve scheduled tours to the different beaches, the museums, and the Allied cemetery. We’ll spend another day at Mont Saint Michel, maybe a hundred miles away. Look on the web for pictures; it’s beautiful and unique. Growing up, I had a large poster of Mont Saint Michel on the wall in my bedroom; I never thought I’d see it for real.
From this journey, I hope to find words to describe some of what my dad experienced and that those words will carry over into describing what my characters experience in the story. This is NOT my dad’s story; it is wholly fictional and the characters do not resemble him, but I do want to honor his experience and to portray accurately the substance of being a soldier in war.
The new book should be finished in December and then I’ll start working with my editor to get it into publishable form next year.
Don Willerton has been a reader all his life and yearns to write words like the authors he has read. He's working hard at it and invites others to share their experiences.