First Lt. James Vincent Pelosi flew B-17s and B-24s during World War Two, then flew cargo planes that shuttled food and supplies to the citizens of Berlin during the Berlin Airlift. In 2014, his son, Dr. James Joseph Pelosi, honored his father and the memories of other veterans by walking the route of the Allied Army from Omaha Beach to Berlin.
That’s 844 miles. He carried 38 pounds on his back – about what a GI would have carried during WWII - with a two-person tent, a poncho to put underneath the tent, a sleeping bag, an air mattress, a raincoat, first-aid kit, flashlight, a few layers of clothing and personal hygiene items, two pairs of socks to rotate and five days’ worth of MREs (army rations), with periodic resupply points along the way.
He wrote about his journey in 2017, publishing Normandy to Berlin: The Trek to Honor the Legacies.
I have the greatest admiration for the guy, who is an aerospace biomedical engineer in Houston and was 62 at the time. What an accomplishment! I read about him yesterday and woke up this morning wondering how much rental cars are in Europe. That’s a bad sign. But 844 miles is less than the height of Texas. For a Texan, it’s only a two-day drive.
The reason I was thinking about Europe was that my editor suggested that I be ready to give talks when my war-story book comes out. A local chapter of the Military Writers of America meets monthly in Albuquerque and I can see myself giving a presentation at one of their meetings. The local VFW meetings might also be a venue. I still don’t know much about the war, but my dad’s story would be resonant with many veterans, as well as children of veterans.
In anticipation of that, and out of curiosity, I took my dad’s itinerary and used Google Maps to draw a fair representation of his route from the time he landed in England to the time he boarded a troop ship in France to come home.
After the war was over, when he stepped onto familiar ground back in Ponca City, Oklahoma, he had been gone 3 years and 10 days. He had spent six months in the States, a year in England, and then, from stepping onto Omaha Beach to leaving Europe at the port city of Le Havre, he had spent 485 days in the middle of a war, traveling through France, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, Germany, and Czechoslovakia.
The map with his route is in the photo, with a larger version on the MogiFranklin website.
The letters on the map tell more of the story:
A – He spent 6 months training in Florida, then left Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, on board the Queen Mary, on June 23, 1943 and arrived in England (probably at Portsmouth or Southampton) on June 30.
B – He was in England from June 30, 1943, to June 27, 1944, working as an operator of a truck-based aircraft detection radar system.
C - He landed at Omaha Beach on July 2, 1944, and set up his radar system a few miles away, just south of Point du Hoc, next to a temporary airfield created by Army engineers (AF-2).
D – The “breakout” from Normandy occurred around August. His unit followed the First Army out of Normandy, helped them celebrate in a just-liberated Paris, turned north into Belgium and Holland, then back into Belgium. He was in Bastogne from October 29 to December 19, when the Germans began the Battle of the Bulge. The irregular loop on the map shows that his unit stayed close, but not too close, to the front line.
E – After the battle ended in January, 1945, he was linked to the Third Army (Gen. George Patton) as they fought their way into Germany, from January through April, 1945.
F – He moved into Czechoslovakia on May 1, and was there when Germany surrendered on May 8.
G – During the Allied Occupation period after the war, he spent 3 months at the 86th Replacement Depot in Darmstadt, then was stationed at the Furstenfeldbruck Air Field outside of Munich when he received orders to go home.
H – It took a 24-hour bus ride to get from Munich to the port city of Le Havre, but I bet no one complained. He waited a week to board his troop ship.
I – I believe that one of the things he did during that week was to take an Army-sponsored excursion to Mont St. Michel, which was about 3 hours away. A photograph shows he was there.
J – Finally, after 485 days from when he landed on Omaha Beach (about 30 miles away), he boarded a ship in Le Havre and, 178 hours later, walked down the gangplank into New York City on November 16, 1945.
He made it home at 4:00 in the morning on Friday, November 23rd, 1945, just in time for Thanksgiving. His war was finally over.
On Saturday, between viewing short movies at the Santa Fe Film Festival and meeting friends for dinner, I had several hours of free time. True to my nature, I ended up in downtown Santa Fe, looking in the windows of the shops and galleries around the Square and being inspired by the talented potters, painters, weavers, sculptors, jewelers, photographers and other craftspeople who display their works. Some people create incredible art!
I went to the Collected Works bookstore and found two books that I could not resist. One is a storybook about two frogs for my granddaughter, and the other is Thunder and Lightning, Cracking Open the Writer’s Craft, by Natalie Goldberg. Natalie is a world-renowned writing teacher, as well as being the author of several well-known and successful writing books. She lives in Taos, about 90 minutes from my house, and travels around the country hosting writing seminars and classes.
I finished her book this afternoon and am encouraged. Natalie is dedicated to dealing with the emotions experienced by writers and poets as we attempt to reproduce on paper what we see, hear, and feel in our minds. It’s all touchy-feely stuff, but I’m a touchy-feely guy, so I pay attention to her honest and witty guidance. She has great advice on the mechanics of writing fiction and nonfiction, and wants writers to be authentically centered so we can get over the cultural filters that inhibit our describing reality with clarity. I’ve read several of her books and this one is exceptional. Reading her books have made me a better writer.
I have a growing interest in the Prisoner of War camps that were created and maintained in America during World War II. There were about 700 camps in 47 states that housed a half-million prisoners from different European countries, including Italy, Poland, France, and Germany from 1943 to 1946. A local historian has recently written a couple of articles for the Los Alamos newspapers about POW camps in New Mexico and it’s made me want to know more. It’s fascinating to hear the stories. I mention the camps in my upcoming book, but know little about them. Once I get a break from more prioritized reading, I’ll order a few books from Amazon and see what I can learn.
While surfing Amazon this week, I found a book describing the Allied need for combatting German submarines in the early years of WWII. It tells the story of a British officer and his team of 12 WRENs (the British Navy equivalent to our WACs), and their development of a “submarine game” to model the movement of U-Boats in the North Atlantic. The “gameboard” was the floor of a high school gymnasium where they set up a grid, drew in the countries that border the sea, and then moved “game pieces” around the floor that mapped the encounters of U-Boats with Allied ships. Using decrypted ENIGMA machine messages between the submarines and the German command, the team mimicked the movements, proposed and tested the strategies involved, and learned how to predict their behaviors. The game became successful and allowed the Allies to defend themselves against the U-Boats.
Devising a physical game to discover such important stuff sounded fascinating, so it’s now on my reading list.
This week, hopefully, I’ll also begin laying out the structure for my next novel. I know how it begins and ends, but haven’t the foggiest about what happens in between.
Changing my DonaldWillerton.com website is in the works and may start next month. I will be including the text of the first two chapters of each published book displayed on the website. There will be a button with each book’s blurb that will take you to a pdf-formatted text that you can read straight off your computer screen. I’m hoping that reading the set-up and the introduction to each story will entice people to purchase and read the whole book.
Each Mogi Franklin Mystery uses the first chapter to highlight a historically-authentic, fictional incident that results in an unsolved mystery during that time period. The second chapter introduces a story set in the present day and features my two sleuths, Mogi and Jennifer Franklin. They become involved in a mystery or social situation that requires solving the historical mystery to solve their present-day problem. It takes both the first and second chapters to see the whole plot.
For SMOKE DREAMS, the prologue, set in the Canadian River valley in 1870, plus the first chapter will be featured. The first chapter begins the story in the present day. Those of you interested in the Comanche and Cowboy history of the southern plains will like this book. There’s also a house that’s been possessed by a spirit who will keep you on your toes.
For THE KING OF TRASH, the first two chapters will introduce two parallel storylines that follow ocean-cleaning and homelessness until they suddenly join to become one crisis involving genocide and betrayal. Those of you who like moral conundrums will like this book.
For TEDDY’S WAR, the first chapter is essentially (and may yet be) a prologue to the story, while the second sets the stage for my main character’s journey through World War II. I’ll be recommending this book to children of WWII veterans (like me), to people interested in military stories, and to young adults who would like a good introduction to the European Theatre of WWII.
Other changes will include more photographs related to each book, especially of the San Juan River trip that I did in July, and the trip to London and Normandy that I did in October. I would like to increase the number of photos included in each section of the photo blog.
Meanwhile, waiting for the first edit of TEDDY’S WAR, I’m continuing to read WWII-related books (I’m hooked), some research books on the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland, a few books on the Shroud of Turin, and guide books that describe the Santa Fe Trail.
Next year is the 200th anniversary of the opening of the Santa Fe Trail and I’m thinking that driving the roads along to the Trail would be a good and fun thing to do. The Trail officially starts at Boonville, Missouri, and terminates in Santa Fe. It’s about 800 miles by highway (a little more than 900 miles by wagon), and can be done fast or slow, depending on how many side trips, museums, gift shops, and viewing locations you want to stop at. The big thing is to see the wagon ruts that still remain along the trail and to hear tales of the early pioneers and traders.
The trip may also result in a new Mogi Franklin mystery that features the Trail, but I haven’t yet imagined a good plot. If I was smart, I’d get it written so that it was published in time for the Trail-centered events planned for the anniversary. The Santa Fe Trail Association should be hosting several.
I had to spend a couple of weeks decompressing from TEDDY’S WAR. I began writing the story a year ago and have spent a good portion of the time since then with my brain sitting in World War II. It was surprising how hard it was to stop thinking about Europe, my dad, the war, and concentration camps, and to get my mental state back to focusing on other literary things.
I’m sure that you’ve also seen newspaper and on-line references to the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. April 29th is the anniversary of the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp, which figures prominently in my story. There were several hundred other camps in Germany and other Nazi-occupied regions of Europe, so you’ll see more liberation anniversaries between now and summer.
On December 7th, I sent my publisher the FINAL draft of a historical fiction novel based on my dad’s itinerary during World War II. It is the story of one soldier’s journey through the war, set against the historical realism of combat, and is also a love story between the soldier, his girlfriend back home, and his brother. It’s about 100,000 words and almost 200 pages of text.
Three weeks later, on December 31st, I met with two editors to discuss their comments and suggestions. One editor was there to give his input early in the effort and then assume an advisory role; the other, Barbara, is the manuscript editor for the rest of the process. They recommended significant changes to the storyline, and I spent the next week revising and rewriting, then sent them a new FINAL FINAL draft on January 6th. I later regretted some of my deletions, added some scenes back in, and sent another draft on the 12th.
We met again on January 18th. They had a handful of suggestions, only one of which was significant: I used a third-person, omnipotent perspective for a scene that extended over four chapters, but had the scene being described by a character (the wife) as if she was repeating words provided by her husband, who has died. Looking at it closely, the scene had information he could not have known, told in a voice that was not hers, so that needed to be revised.
The editors have been reading and noting problems at the level of plot, situation, characters, themes, point-of-view, structure, design, and other high-level concerns. Once those concerns were addressed, Barbara would begin a word-level edit of the draft. She will tweak words or sentences or paragraphs, and will work through the whole manuscript before I get it back. She may ask questions or want me to revise a passage along the way, but, otherwise, I will not be part of the process until she’s finished.
Keeping myself out of the word-by-word edit is important. Imagine that Barbara goes through one chapter, word-by-word, sentence-by-sentence, straightening out the grammar, the spelling, the sentence construction, and clarifying (by reorganizing or rewriting my words) to make my story better. If I then take that chapter and change the dialogue, change the context, mess around with the characters, move words around, replace words, or such, she has a right to stand up and holler at me. It would be the same if she were the author and I was the editor; I would resent having my work negated.
My objective in talking about this is to show that there are steps in writing a book where the work of writing requires more discipline than creativity. For me, after the meeting on the 18th, the next draft was expected to be the FINAL FINAL FINAL draft and I would no longer make changes until after Barbara had worked through the whole thing.
With that in mind, I immediately went home after the January 18th meeting and spent another fifty hours making several hundred minor changes to the manuscript, to the point of not only reworking the first sentence of the story, but also the last sentence. Note that I didn’t change any of the high-level concerns that had been discussed with the editors and already addressed.
It was a good thing to do, but embarrassing. I’ve been working on this story for a year, and have gone through a dozen distinct drafts, each one supposedly better than the previous one, so making that many changes at this point in the game probably reveals a fundamental character flaw in my personality, as well as my craft. But the threat of not being able to freely make changes caused me to panic and I ferociously attacked the entire book.
Most of my changes were deletions – taking out unnecessary words, tightening up the dialogue, simplifying words and sentences, removing paragraphs, removing unnecessary scenes, taking out passages of information that get me all excited but the reader probably doesn’t want to read, and making the story simpler, clearer, and more authentic. I also made the characters more distinct in their speech and actions. One character is now definitely a bad guy, whereas I had previously left it up to the reader to decide; It didn’t take many words and it now reads better.
After a ton of work, the result is better story-telling with better writing, so I sent the FINAL FINAL FINAL draft to the editors on January 25th.
I hope I’ve done everything that I wanted because it’s now out of my hands. Barbara has, indeed, begun a word-by-word edit, and I am sitting idly by until she and I meet sometime in the future to review what she’s done. She has a full-time job in addition to being a book editor, so it will probably take a couple of months.
The reward in the system is that I know she will improve the story and the writing. She’s been my editor on several of the Mogi Franklin mysteries and I’ve always appreciated her style and guidance. The products have always been better for it, which is the purpose of an editor.
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.