The Poem Patrol, Volume Twenty-Seven: “Fractured Minds” and “Scrambled Brain”

fractured minds sign
Image copyright (C) 2015 by Tony Held, all rights reserved.

 

I am surrounded by people
With fractured minds.
They do not care about what makes me tick,
They always make my teeth grind
Whenever they make blanket assumptions about who I am
And how I want to life my life,
Always causing me needless strife
With their blinds sighted meddling.

Even if I gave them
A diagram of my mind, body, and soul,
They still would not understand the whole
Of whom I am.

All they can see
Is that I do not go for conformity,
And so they put a hex on everything
I say and do…
Well, they can go take a long walk off a short pier,
Because the way I live my life
Suits me just fine.

 

scrambled brain sign
Image copyright (C) 2015 by Tony Held, all rights reserved.

 

I feel so fuzzy in my head
Like it has been hours
Since I last was in bed
Or that I have tried to run
A marathon
All at once
Across a frozen tundra
Wearing only athletic clothes
As if I were a stupid dunce
But no
My scrambled brain
Comes from having had a bad day
When everybody got mad
At how stubborn I was
About pursing a dream
Even though the bank statement
Could not support it
Any longer
And back to the ranks
Of the nine to fivers
I would have to go
No matter what I could do or say…
Oh I hate having
This scrambled brain
After suffering through
Such a an awful day
I wish they would no longer accrue
In my life
And leave me with a scrambled brain.

 

 

The Poem Patrol, Volume Twenty-Six: “To A Brick Wall” and “Finishing The Book”

brick wall sign
Image copyright (C) 2015 by Tony Held, all rights reserved.

 

I talk to a brick wall all day
Made out of fiber optic cable
Trying to earn good pay
From doing freelance work
At which
I am very able.

I go up to that wall
And talk to it as loud
As my voice can carry
While amplified by
Message boards and e-mails
As I give that job search my all…
But I might as well be
Trying to catch a cloud.

And so an empty inbox
Stares me in the face
That is what you get
When talking to this wall
Made of fiber optic cable
A freelancer’s career that
Crawls along
At a snail’s pace
No matter how hard I
Try to enable
An epic jump start
And pick myself
Up off the mat…

But wait
What is this?
There is a job query in my e-mail!
Hurray!
At last I am done
With all those epic fails
Because the brick wall
Made of fiber optic cable
Has spoken to me at last!

 

Finishing the book
Image copyright (C) 2015 by Tony Held, all rights reserved.

 

I have moved mountains to write it
Pushed myself late into the night
Time and again
Despite
Tired mind and body.

Now at last
I am on the verge of the completion
Of this book born of many sessions
At my keyboard…
Or so I thought
As suddenly my all my exertions
Come to naught
As I feel like I am caught
In a thicket of brambles
Confronted by a maze of towering hedges
As writers block sweeps
On over me
Like a tide that steadily creeps
Up a beach…
Until at last it recedes
And as I struggle on towards the finish line.

 

 

The Poem Patrol, Volume Twenty-Five: “Wasted Bread” and “God And Mammon?”

Wasted bread
Image copyright (C) 2015 by Tony Held, all rights reserved.

 

It is said
That wasted bread
Is a sin…
But if that is so
People around the world go
And prolifically indulge in
Wasted bread
Even as people around the world
Go hungry
If I may say so bluntly.

I hate to see bread
And other foods wasted
Because they have hit their expiration date
Or people simply had not ate
All of what was sitting in tureens and serving dishes
In buffets and deli cases…
But many a starving person
In near and far places
Yearn to have tasted
All that bread and other foods
Before they were wasted
And tossed into the trash
Because they did not sell
Or people that take food for granted bought
But then completely forgot
Those loafs of bread
And other foods
That they were in the mood
To buy that day.

 

God and Mammon sign
Image copyright (C) 2015 by Tony Held, all rights reserved.

 

Why is it oh Lord
That you can’t pursue your dreams
Free of pointless drama and discord
Caused by a lack of money?
I thought You were more powerful
Than a vault full of gold?

A lack of money is so frustrating,
And always causing petty squabbles
To constantly be raging,
And makes you sit in the hot seat
While those who depend on you
Demand why you can’t make more,
Even if you’ve got the proverbial pedal to the floor.

This is why I sometimes wonder
If You are not a big, fat, lie, oh Lord,
Because You always make us go bow before another
In the forms of bill collectors, tax men, and corporations…
So what’s this I hear about not serving “God and Mammon”?
It seems we already do,
Especially since it is only money
That allows us to pursue our dreams.

 

 

 

The Poem Patrol, Volume Twenty-Four: “Trepidation” and “Burned Brain”

tredpidation sign
Image copyright (C) 2015 by Tony Held, all rights reserved.

 

It brings us up short
Despite the many challenges
We’ve overcome before.

It makes us wary
Reluctant
Timid
Afraid
Fearful about what might happen
Or what “they” might say
If suddenly we play
The fool.

It slows our resolute steps
As we march towards the challenges
We encounter along life’s way
Bogs us down
Before we have even marched into
Whatever valley lies before us…
And all our battles are lost
Before they have even begun
Because of the paralysis
Of trepidation.

 

burned brain sign
Image copyright (C) 2015 by Tony Held, all rights reserved.

 

 

My brain
Feels like it has been burned
By acid rain
As I think of how everyone railed
Over how I have failed
To have earned
A decent wage
From doing some at which
I am a sage.

I do not like
Feeling this way
After enduring what
Skeptical loved ones
Have had to say
With my mouth shut
And my eyes
Open wide
Like I was a deer
Caught in the headlights
As I got caught up
In yet another fight.

Oh how my brain
Feels like it has been burnt
By acid rain
Because I may
Have to again
Pay
My
Way
While at work
Out in the cold, crazy world…
God spare me this fate!

 

 

That’s “Freelancer,” Not “Volunteer”

freelancer volunteer sign
Image copyright (C) 2015 by Tony Held, all rights reserved.

 

I recently came across a doozy of a sign on the web that said “If I wanted to work for free I’d choose to be a volunteer, not a freelancer. Learn the difference already.” * It inspired the sign that adorns this opinion piece of mine.

Freelancers like me expect to work for pay. We also have our own set rates. If you do not wish to pay anyone for their work, in, say, proofreading a book, find a few volunteer “beta” readers. Don’t bother me with questions if I can either A. work for free or B. work for less than my requested rate.  I have bills to pay.

If I want to volunteer at something, I’d go back to volunteering for the Minnesota Transportation Museum at the Minnehaha Depot at Minnehaha Park in Minneapolis, Minnesota. But volunteering, while it may be good for the resume, is not good for the bank account. ‘Nuff said.

*It can be found below number five in the list in this article:
www.hongkiat.com/blog/things-to-consider-before-fulltime-freelancing/

 

The Poem Patrol, Volume Twenty-Three: “Days Off Work” and “Office Politics”

days off work sign
Image copyright (C) 2015 by Tony Held, all rights reserved.

 

Two go by like a breeze
Four go by in a heartbeat
Nine seem like plenty
But still the clock is always ticking
Until work’s door I once again am darkening.

Two weeks are pure bliss
But they always rush on by
Like a river at flood tide.

Forever in a day would be
Days off enough for me
Then I would then have all the time in the world
In which to pursue my dreams
Unfettered by the need
To harvest crops of money
To provide the little needs of life.

 

office politics sign
Image copyright (C) 2015 by Tony Held, all rights reserved.

 

What a waste of time it is
When co-workers indulge in
What is known as “office politics.”

Sit in the break room satirizing the boss for all in view
All the while labeling him a meddling buffoon …
You are playing office politics I tell you.

Walk into the “employees only” area
Mocking the voice of the boss’ you dislike like it was an aria
Playing for your co-worker audience …
You are indulging in nothing but office politics.

Don’t go dismissing me so lightly
When I say to you that such stuff is only
Just plain indulging in extreme negativity
Merely wasting your emotional energy.

You can go ahead and try to justify to me
Those office politics you are playing
But you can count on playing them without me
I find them simply disgusting.

So keep them away from me those office politics you are playing
Something you enjoy with such glee.

No!
No!
Don’t try to dump that on me …
I am only here to make ends meet.

 

 

The Lies Charles Pellegrino Told In “The Last Train From Hiroshima”

Hiroshima Dome
The building that became Hiroshima’s peace memorial photographed standing amidst the ruins of ground zero post-attack.  Image credit: Wikimedia.

 

Charles Pellegrino’s 2010 book The Last Train From Hiroshima came under much fire for its alleged lies and falsehoods about the Hiroshima bombing. Pellegrino subsequently mounted a defense against these allegations protesting his innocence and blaming others for the flaws in the book. 1 However, I’ve found these accusations are warranted, for while Pellegrino may paint with a vivid brush, it is of a shade of prose paint whose color is lurid, and who not only repeats but also embellishes myths about the tragic event.   Myths that writer John Hersey debunked in his famous article for The New Yorker which was simply entitled “Hiroshima.”

To demonstrate, here is a quote from the first couple pages of Pellegrino’s book regarding Hiroshima’s “shadow people”:

For the Japanese scientists who first ventured into the still-radioactive hypocenters of Hiroshima and Nagasaki trying to understand what had occurred, the most fearsome deaths were the quickest. On a bridge located in central Hiroshima, a man could still be seen leading a horse, though he had utterly ceased to exist. His footsteps, the horse’s footsteps, and the last footsteps of the people who had been crossing the bridge with him toward the heart of the city were preserved on the instantly bleached road surface, as if by an accidental new method of flash photography.

Only a little farther downriver, barely 140 steps from the exact detonation, and still within this same sliver of a second, women who were sitting on the stone steps of the Suimoto Bank’s main entrance, evidently waiting for the doors to open, evaporated when the skies opened up instead.  Those who did not survive the first half-second of human contact with a nuclear weapon were alive in one moment, on the bank’s steps or on the streets and the bridges—hoping for Japan’s victory or looking toward defeat, hoping for the return of loved ones taken away to war, or mourning loved ones already lost, thinking of increased food rations for their children, or of smaller dreams, or having no dreams at all—and then, facing the flash point, they were converted into gas and desiccated carbon and their minds and bodies dissolved, as if they had been merely the dream of something alien to human experience suddenly awakening. 

And yet the shadows of these people lingered behind their blast-dispersed carbon, imprinted upon the blistered sidewalks, and upon the bank’s granite steps—testament that they had once lived and breathed. 2

Now for comparison, here is what Hersey had to say about this:

The scientists noticed that the flash of the bomb had discolored concrete to a light reddish tint, had scaled off the surface of granite, and had scorched certain other types of building material, and that consequently the bomb had, in some places, left prints of the shadows that had been cast by its light.  The experts found, for instance, a permanent shadow thrown on the roof of the Chamber of Commerce Building (220 yards from the rough center) by the structure’s rectangular tower; several others in the lookout post on top of the Hypothec Bank (2.050 yards); another in the tower of the Chugoku Electric Supply Building (800 yards); another projected by the handle of a gas pump (2,630 yards);  and several on granite tombstones in the Gokoku Shrine (385 yards).  By triangulating these and other such shadows with the objects that formed them, the scientists determined that the exact center was a spot a hundred and fifty yeards south of the torii and a few yards southeast of the pile of ruins that had once been the Shima Hospital.  (A few vague human silhouettes were found, and these gave rise to stories that eventually included fancy and precise details.  One story told how a painter on a ladder was monumentalized in a kind of bas-relief on the stone facade of a bank building on which he was at work, in the act of dipping his brush into his paint can; another, how a man and his cart on the bridge near the Museum of Science and Industry, almost under the center of the explosion, was cast down in an embossed shadow which made it clear the man was about to whip his horse.) 3

It is plain from the above that the shadows of bomb victims in the ruins of Hiroshima were not as vivid as Pellegrino claimed, and that their last vestiges gave rise to folk tales of vivid shadows etched onto stone by “Little Boy” as it exploded,  folk tales that Pellegrino simply embellished to the point of pure science fiction.  He even recast the tale of the man with the cart on the bridge to have him leading a lone horse with no cart instead of about to use his whip on his cart-harnessed charge when the bomb supposedly immortalized their shadows.  And when you compare his account to the no-nonsense reporting by Hersey on this grim aspect of Hiroshima, it becomes evident that Pellegrino grossly exaggerated the facts about the bombing right from the start of the book; thus pumping even more lies into history’s fragile bloodstream of remembrance.

 

Notes

 

1. “Atomic Veterans Incensed Over False Claims In New Book,” Veterans of The 50th Composite Group, accessed May 30, 2012, http://www.us-japandialogueonpows.org/essays/509pressrelease.pdf  Steven Levingston, “Author admits he was duped by a source while researching book on the Hiroshima,” The Washington Post, February  22, 2010, accessed May 30, 2012, http://voices.washingtonpost.com/shortstack/2010/02/author_admits_he_was_duped_by.html

2.  Charles Pellegrino, The Last Train From Hiroshima (Henry Holt, 2010), 1-2.

3.  John Hersey, “Hiroshima, part IV, Panic grass and feverfew” in The New Yorker Book of War Pieces (The New Yorker Magazine, 1947), 551.

 

Lies Stephen Ambrose Told In “Crazy Horse And Custer”

In this post-Gettysburg photograph apparently taken somewhere in Virginia, brigadier general George Armstrong Custer poses with General Alfred Pleasanton, the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps commander. Note that GAC is wearing his black velveteen jacket notable for not having shoulder straps like the coat Pleasanton is wearing–his brigadier’s stars are on the collars of the sailor’s shirt Custer acquired from a sailor on a Union gunboat in 1862. He was wearing this same shirt (sans stars) when he died at the Little Big Horn on June 25th, 1876. The shirt was stripped from his corpse afterward and vanished into the mists  of time. Image credit: Wikimedia.

 

 

The Rummel Farm, east of Gettysburg. July 3rd, 1863.

Troopers of the First Michigan cavalry galloped towards Confederate general Wade Hampton’s advancing horsemen. At the head of the Michiganders was a man in a black velveteen uniform topped with a red scarf and a broad brimmed sailor’s shirt adorned with silver stars.  He rode with saber upraised, his long blonde hair streaming out from beneath a wide brimmed hat which also was adorned with a silver star. Behold George Armstrong Custer, “The Boy General.”

After much hard fighting, the charge of the First Michigan, assisted by assaults on both of Hampton’s flanks by Yankee cavalrymen from nearby units, succeeded in driving back the last attempt made by Confederate cavalier James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart to disperse the Union troopers, preventing him from getting into the rear of the Army of the Potomac as it beat back Pickett’s Charge.

Now, 150 years after Custer bravely led his men into the fray at Gettysburg, an ugly accusation leveled by historian Stephen Ambrose still hovers over Custer’s performance that day.

In his book Crazy Horse and Custer: The Parallel Lives of Two American Warriors, Ambrose claimed that at Gettysburg, Custer’s brigade lost 481 men.  1  Contrast this to the tally of 29 dead, 123 wounded, and 67 missing given in Gregory Urwin’s book Custer Victorious. This same total is given by Custer biographer Jeffrey Wert in his book Custer: The Controversial Life of George Armstrong Custer. Both writers arrived at their figures using separate sources. 2

What sources, if any, did Ambrose consult? He cites in his footnotes part one of Volume XXVII of the War of the Rebellion records. On one of the pages cited–a report of casualties suffered by the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps at Gettysburg–a listing of “451” is given for the second brigade of the Third Division (i.e. Custer’s). If taken at face value, this vindicates Ambrose’s claim, if one gives or takes a margin of 30. But there is a footnote for the section in question that reads: “But see revised statement, pp 185, 186.” Lo and behold: on page 186 Custer’s total losses for Gettysburg are listed at 257! 3 Ambrose did not mention this page in his footnotes. The above facts make it clear that Ambrose lied about Custer’s losses. All he did was take an erroneous report and inflate it slightly. In actuality, Custer’s Gettysburg losses were between 219 and 257.

Ambrose’s claim about Custer at Gettysburg demonstrates his unfortunate penchant for making unsubstantiated claims in his writings, as well as provides a good example of how ink has often been used to slander  George Armstrong Custer. 4

 

Notes

1. Stephen E. Ambrose, Crazy Horse and Custer: The Parallel Lives of Two American Warriors (Anchor; 1st Anchor Books trade pbk. ed edition, 1996), 196.   Ambrose later repeated this claim in an article entitled “Custer’s Civil War,” which was subsequently reprinted in his anthology Americans at War (University Press of Mississippi, 1997), 52.

2. Gregory J.W. Urwin, Custer Victorious (University of Nebraska Press, 1983), 81. Urwin’s footnote for these is from David F. Riggs, East of Gettysburg: Custer Vs. Stuart (Old Army Press, 1985), 49. Jeffrey D. Wert, Custer: The Controversial Life of George Armstrong Custer (Touchstone, 1997), 95. Wert cites several sources in his footnote for the statistics; none are Urwin’s book nor the one by Riggs.

3. United States War Department et al., The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies; Series 1 – Volume 27 (Part I) (Washington: Govt. Print. Off, 1889), 919, 991-998.

4. For an example, see Richard Brayner, “Channeling Ike,” The New Yorker, April 26, 2010, accessed May 30, 2012, http://www.newyorker.com/talk/2010/04/26/100426ta_talk_rayner

 

How Many Historical Novels Has Jimmy Doolittle Appeared In?

Doolittle and LeMay England
Jimmy Doolittle and another famous air general -Curtis LeMay- pose by a P-38 Lightning in England circa 1944. This year witnessed none other than Spencer Tracy portraying Doolittle in the film version of Doolittle Raider Ted Lawson’s book Thirty Seconds over Tokyo. Little did Jimmy know that the next decent dramatic depiction of him would be not in a movie, but in a pair of historical novels penned by historical novelist Jeff Shaara. Image courtesy Wikimedia.

 

Following up my recent post about my World War Two novel in progress which will depict Jimmy Doolittle, here is a look at how many historical novels this legendary aviation pioneer and war hero appeared in.

In the annals of literature, there are only two historical novels that feature features aviation pioneer and WWII hero  James H. Doolittle; both are by none other than historical novelist Jeff Shaara.

The first of these two is The Rising Tide.  In this novel -which covers WWII in North Africa to WWII in Sicily- Jimmy is present at a meeting in Algiers, Algeria, between Dwight D. Eisenhower and Doolittle and Arthur Tedder (Doolittle was Tedder’s subordinate at this moment in time -December of 1942 as head of the U.S. Twelfth Air Force.) In the scene, Doolittle has no dialogue but chuckles at a comment made by Tedder as they leave the room. This “cameo” by Doolittle takes place on pages 203-205 of the hardcover edition.

Shaara’s discussion of Doolittle’s background before North Africa is accurate, but he does not mention how Doolittle and Ike wound up getting off on the wrong foot over a minor faux pas on Jimmy’s part during a pre-Operation Torch meeting between him, Ike, and George Patton.

As he recorded in his memoirs:

‘With a minimum of formality we sat down and immediately began discussing Torch. George led off with a briefing on his intentions and plans “to drive the bastards into the sea.” Ike seemed satisfied with that and turned to me. He said, “Our first job will be to acquire airfields in North Africa. As soon as they’re acquired, we’ve got to be able to operate.

He was right, of course. However, instead of saying “Yes, sir, that’s exactly what we’ll do,” I very stupidly said, “General Eisenhower, the fields will be of no value to us until the ground troops have cleared and occupied the air bases, have brought in fuel, supplies, ammunition, bombs, food, and spare parts. Then we’ll be able to operate.”

I saw his face change, and I knew that I had blown it. It was a dumb thing to tell a general with as much logistics experience and military service as Eisenhower. Here was a one-star reserve officer implying that a two-star general who had spent his entire adult life in the service didn’t know what he was talking about.

I realized I had made a horrible mistake, but it was too late to recover from it. His face froze and I fumbled for words. I never got to tell him much about our plans for the 12th.’ (I Could Never be so Lucky Again, by James H. Doolittle with Carroll V. Glines, 277, Bantam paperback edition.)

This aside, Shaara captures Doolittle perfectly in The Rising Tide.

Doolittle again appears in Shaara’s novel No Less Than Victory. Again Jimmy is at a meeting with Ike at SHAEF headquarters in Versailles, France, in November of 1944. Arthur Tedder is again present, but this time Jimmy has the floor as commander of the famous 8th Air Force. Jimmy’s “cameo” in this novel is what opens chapter 2, and occupies pages 22 to 24 of the hardcover edition.

Jeff’s characterization of Jimmy is pretty good, but there might be an out-of-character element to his depiction. In this sequence, Jimmy uses the word “damn” once and “hell” three times. One thing Doolittle was noted for was his dislike of profanity. However, Jimmy is depicted by Jeff as being irritated by the extravagant claims being made about airpower in this sequence. Jimmy himself mentions in passing the use of an cuss word in this passage from his memoirs discussing a pre-invasion briefing he gave Ike and General Carl “Tooey” Spaatz and an irritated comment he made about a weather forecast officer named Krick:

‘My distrust of long-range weather forecasting surfaced many times during the succeeding weeks, and it came to a head again when I was giving a briefing for Tooey and Ike one day at High Wycombe. I was telling about a mission then in progress and explained that the bombers were proceeding to their secondary target. Tooey immediately interrupted to ask why. I said it was because the primary target was socked in.

“But Colonel Krick assured me the primary would be clear,” Tooey said.

Before I could stop myself, I countered, “Colonel Krick is full of crap.”‘ (Emp. added; I Could Never be so Lucky Again, 357, Bantam Paperback edition.)

Judging by this, Doolittle let out a cuss word every now and then when deeply irritated; but not casually, as depicted in an atrocious 2001 movie better left unnamed.

Doolittle displays none of his characteristic genial warmth and humor in this sequence as well; this is accurate on Shaara’s part. Joanna Doolittle Hoppes quotes a letter from Jimmy in her biography of him in which he confesses that his Christmas message to the 8th Air Force lacked warmth. The demands of command during times of intense air operations at times would strip away Jimmy’s cheerful attitude.

On a whole, Shaara depicted Doolittle well in No Less Than Victory.

Apart from these two novels, however, Jimmy Doolittle rates on mentions in a scattered few others such as a novel in W.E.B. Griffin’s The Corps series entitled Battleground in which Doolittle is the boyhood hero of one of his characters. So far, only the pages of The Rising Tide and No Less Than Victory have seen him grace the pages of a historical novel as a character.

Finally, Jimmy is given an honorable dramatization in T. Martin Bennett’s recently published novel Wounded Tiger, a novelization of his screenplay of the same name which depicts the parallel stories of Pearl Harbor attack commander Mitsuo Fuchida and Doolittle Raider Jake DeShazer.

 

“The Eagles of Shangri-La”: A World War Two Novel

03_doolittles_raiders
Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, USAAF, Capt. Marc Mitscher, USN, and Doolittle’s pilots and crews pose before a ceremony held aboard the USS Hornet while en route to Japan. This ceremony witnessed Japanese medals presented to several US Navy officers before WWII were wired to a bomb; a bomb destined to fall on a target in Tokyo. The photo looks like it could be a still from a “Band of Brothers”-type miniseries about the Doolittle Raid. Photo courtesy Maritime Quest.

 

Introduction

Today marks the 73rd anniversary of the Doolittle Raid, the daring first strike against the Japanese homeland four months after the war in the Pacific began. I would like to mark this occasion by discussing here a historical novel I am developing about this dramatic WWII story.

At its best, a historical dramatization brings the past alive using an all-historical cast of characters. My favorite historical novel, The Killer Angels, my favorite movie, Gettysburg (Ronald F. Maxwell’s epic adaption of The Killer Angels) and favorite TV show, “Band of Brothers” (based on the non-fiction classic by Stephen Ambrose) are three good examples of this.

Unfortunately, the same year “Band” aired also witnessed a horrifically bad film better entitled Pathetic Harbor which contained a vapid; scenery-chomping; anachronism-laden; and wildly inaccurate depiction of an event worthy of a miniseries of its own: the April 18, 1942, bombing raid against Japan consisting of 16 B-25 medium bombers launched from the USS Hornet. All led by aviation pioneer (and living legend) James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle.

I felt the saga of the Doolittle Raid was worthy of something akin to “Band of Brothers.” This wish is what led me to starting work on what would become The Eagles of Shangri-La.

Concept

Despite my book’s designation as a “novel”, no events will be altered “for dramatic purposes” (as disclaimers at the end of fact-based dramas like “Band of Brothers” always say).  I do not believe in such alterations, especially when depicting an event chock full of pure drama like the Doolittle Raid.

In a nutshell, my concept for The Eagles Of Shangri-La can be best described as combining the best of “Band of Brothers” with the best of the 1944 movie adaptation of Doolittle Raider Ted Lawson’s memoir Thirty Seconds over Tokyo; it will have the %100 accuracy and authenticity standard of the latter but adopt the unsentimental, no-nonsense tone and feel of the former, but all done using a novel-style narrative replete with reconstructed conversations, thoughts, feelings, and details in order to plunge the reader right into the Doolittle Raiders midst and experience what they experienced.

The title of my novel is derived from a coy statement president Franklin D. Roosevelt made after news of the Doolittle Raid reached the world. When asked where the planes had come from, he said “Shangri-La.” The make-believe dream world of eternal youthfulness from the novel and film Lost Horizon (coincidentally, the original film version of Lost Horizon was directed by Frank Capra, a life-long friend of Jimmy Doolittle’s. Both men met when they went to high school together in Los Angeles. Did Jimmy see Lost Horizon when it was first released?)

Novel timeline

The core timeline of the novel is January to May of 1942, covering the Doolittle Raid from conception to execution to immediate aftermath. A prologue featuring Jimmy Doolittle set in December of 1941 and an epilogue featuring Jimmy Doolittle and the last Doolittle Raider home, George Barr (who was captured along with the rest of his crew when his plane crashed in China after attacking Japan) will bookend the main time line. The former to show to the reader from the start Jimmy’s wish to finally see combat after being held in the States for the duration of World War One, which in turn motivated him to not only train the crews and prepare the planes for the raid, but lead it against Japan; the latter to show how concerned Doolittle was for the men who flew with him against Japan as well as touch on the time spent in captivity by Barr and his fellow POWs (a total of eight Raiders were captured; three were executed in retaliation, one died of starvation, and Barr and three others survived).

As historians and history buffs familiar with the Doolittle Raid can see, this time line will not enable me to depict in detail the ordeal spent by George Barr and his fellow POWs in captivity; for sake of narrative flow Barr will not appear (at least as a significant character) until the epilogue. Similar reasons ensure that only passing mentions can be made to Edward “Ski” York and his crew, who wound up landing in Vladivostok, U.S.S.R., after the raid and endured a surreal time in internment before escaping to Allied-controlled Iran in 1943.  And Doolittle Raider-turned Christian missionary Jake DeShazer has a story worthy of being told all by itself. In fact, one other storyteller –Martin Bennett– has done just that in both a feature film script and script novelization that also features Pearl Harbor attack leader (and future DeShazer friend) Mitsuo Fuchida entitled “Wounded Tiger.” I am thus leaving Jake’s story to Martin’s capable hands.

“Band of Brothers” could not depict each and every member of Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment due to similar limitations. However, there are plenty of historical characters with true stories to go around for The Eagles of Shangri-La whose stories reflect credit on each and every participant, just like those of Easy Company who made “Brothers” TV adaptation did.

Narrative-style

While historical accuracy will not be sacrificed, readers (especially those unfamiliar with the story) will by no means find it a dull read. For example, a suspenseful event that befalls one crew will not be entirely depicted at first. Whenever a suspenseful moment begins for one crew, I will cut to another before the denouement of the tense moment the other crew is enduring gets resolved. This is a narrative technique this writer learned from the action-packed historical adventure novels written by Bernard Cornwell (his Sharpe Series in particular); since the most important part of the word “history” is the last five letters of the word (as Stephen Ambrose once noted), I believe that you can retell a historical event without sacrificing history but at the same time tell it in an gripping way, because events like the Doolittle Raid are stories.

BoBgroup
The Eagles of Shangri-La is going to be as good as “Band of Brothers”, if not more so: there will be precious little R-rated language (if any) contained in it’s pages and certainly no sexual content of any kind. Two of the minor flaws that real-life “Brothers” hero Richard D. Winters disliked.  Image courtesy 101 Airborne WW2; copyright (c) 2001 Home Box Office.

 

Research needs

The amount of material available in the form of books on the Doolittle Raid is more than ample if one is seeks to write a thesis on it; for a project that demands an even higher level of meticulous accuracy such as this novel, however, books alone cannot provide them, especially when it comes to one of the historical elements I want to be as accurate as possible: the personalities of the Doolittle Raiders who will make appearances. Except for the presence of three memoirs  in my library (Jimmy Doolittle’s, Ted Lawson’s, and Ross Greening’s), the other Doolittle Raid books in my library are skimpy as to the human element (though there are nuggets here and there), and even the memoirs can only guide me so far before the mists of time disorient me. This in turn means I am as low in factual information about the emotional makeup and character of the first Americans to raid Japan as the 101st Airborne was food, winter clothes, and ammunition at Bastogne.

This means that questions I have and will continue to ask surviving Doolittle Raiders, Doolittle Raider relatives, historians, and others will cover extremely off the beaten path topics concerning details, details, and more details. Also, letters, diaries, and other written primary source materials are needed as well. The study of these is a research technique I have adopted from a historical novelist named Jeff Shaara whose historically accurate historical novels I am a devotee of (speaking of whom, Jeff gave Jimmy Doolittle cameos in two of his WWII-related novels, more about which can be read in my essay “Jimmy Doolittle in historical fiction.”) Finally, those with knowledge of the B-25 and early U.S. Army Air Force WWII protocol and other minor details will need to be consulted as well in order that no “howlers” creep into the text.

My desire to get things as “right” as possible led me to some creative research methods during the time I spent writing the first draft of The Eagles of Shangri-La. I fondly recall the time at Air Expo 2007 at Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie, MN, where I showed Doolittle Raiders Richard Cole and Tom Griffin a photo from the ceremony on the Hornet where Japanese medals were wired to a bomb destined for Tokyo. I asked if it might help job their memories as to what everybody said to each other during the ceremony. “I was probably asking for a cigarette,” Griffin dryly replied.

Incidentally, faded memories are the chief reason why reconstructed conversations will be found in the novel; but as long as I am able to ensure they sound true to the character of the people speaking them, it will be fine. (Jeff Shaara, for example, thoroughly researches the historical characters in his novels to the point their reconstructed conversations sound true to their characters.)

Tony Doolittle Raider Tom Griffin and Doolittle Raider Richard Cole Air Expo 2006 September 9th 2006
The author (center) poses with Tom Griffin (left) and Dick Cole (right) at Air Expo 2006, one year before I showed them that photo on their table and asked them the question related above. Photo by Air Expo 2006.

 

Manuscript status

Thanks to the lack of needed research material, I shelved the first draft of The Eagles of Shangri-La back in 2008 due to other, more pressing needs. Given how all but two Doolittle Raiders are now gone, I regret making that decision. Reflections aside, stopping work in 2008 has meant that the manuscript has remained (to quote T.E. Lawrence) “very bad as a text.” As I am a full-time freelance editor for-hire, whipping the text into shape will prove to be no problem in the long-run.  Historical research in the short-term, however, is.

One thing is for sure: when the manuscript is complete, I will take it the self-publishing route via either Lulu.com or another venue. As I have discovered with a slew of self-published contemporary fiction short stories, when readers like to read what you write, the need to find a publisher becomes superfluous; and if your first book is a cherished dream like The Eagles of Shangri-La is, it is better to avoid the hassle of submission/rejection, submission/rejection that all but wears out most writers who take the conventional path to publication. The only challenge after self-publication is promotion. That, however, is a matter of concern for the future not to be addressed until it is time for to do so.

 

02_doolittle_raiders
Jimmy Doolittle and his B-25 crew pose for a photo by their plane a few days before the raid. From left to right: Henry A. Potter, Jimmy Doolittle, Fred Bramer, Richard Cole, and Paul Leonard. Photo courtesy Maritime Quest.

 

Conclusion

With a strict focus on historical accuracy, authenticity, and a gripping narrative prose, The Eagles of Shangri-La should indeed morph into  Thirty Seconds over Tokyo meets “Band of Brothers” and become a novel that does great justice to Jimmy Doolittle, his men, and the daring mission they embarked on from the deck of the USS Hornet on April 18th, 1942. It will take a lot of work to make this dream come true, but come true it will.

In closing I would like to thank Doolittle Raiders Richard Cole and David Thatcher, historian Donald Goldstein, and Doolittle Raid scholars Ryan Short and Wes Fields for their assistance with the early phases of the manuscript. I also would like to include a special nod to the late Ellen Lawson, and the late Doolittle Raiders Tom Griffin, David Jones, and Ed Saylor for the assistance they were able to provide.