Ever since Untold Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan hit the shelves in 2010, I found it more and more common for veterans to open up and sometimes even approach me directly with stories from their time in the armed forces. I’d hear all kinds of stories from a wide variety of people- from a young soldier just back from Iraq whose friend was blown to pieces right before his eyes, to a World War II prisoner of war who escaped and was hidden and cared for by a German couple until he could return home. I’ve heard everything in between. I’ve laughed at the goofiest and most sardonic of military humor, and I’ve wept with blue star or gold star parents who wished they could have traded places with their wounded or fallen children.
The stories from those who served in the Korean War captivated me the most mainly because of the very real danger that they’d be lost- and at a time when we most need to learn from them. I felt that the Korean War was like a neglected middle child constantly overshadowed by the bigger, more popular brother World War II and the volatile, misunderstood little sister in Vietnam. Yet one of the most important things I learned about the Korean War that I learned from our veterans rather than from M.A.S.H. reruns is that what we choose to overlook or forget can hurt us later on.
But I’m not posting to wax political about North Korea. Rather, I just wish to provide some insights as to why I jumped at the chance to help write the stories of four Korean War veterans, how informative and transformative I found the experience, and why it’s important to help get the books into print.
Even with a proven and documented track record of listening and learning without judging, I had a few obstacles. The sad reality is that it is not easy for older veterans to open up and share their stories with a relatively young stranger- especially after they’ve gotten used to decades of silence. My civilian status didn’t help matters. That’s where the indispensable Scott Lee came in. As a veteran dealing with his own combat-related PTSD, he came better equipped to make the veterans he spoke to for this project comfortable talking about their experiences.
Even with Scott conducting the interviews, not all the veterans were willing to discuss their experiences. Medal of Honor recipient Rudy Hernandez did not wish to be interviewed for this, and given what I was able to learn about all he’d endured, I don’t blame him. The citation for his “indomitable fighting spirit, outstanding courage, and tenacious devotion to duty,” is a matter of public record and says enough about him. I was grateful enough to be allowed to reference that and share his story without making him rehash anything.
Fellow Medal of Honor recipient Ronald Rosser proved to be much more talkative, and I found myself sorting through an overabundance of information to include in an unfortunately limited number of pages. What touched me most was the modesty and the sense of humor I saw, but especially his keen memory for the heroic contributions he saw others make.
I had the greatest difficulty scripting David Mills’ accounts. It was of utmost importance to him that I include how his faith sustained him emotionally and perhaps even played a role in his physical survival as a prisoner of war. That was the easy part. Recounting the triumphs and tribulations of some of his fellow POW’s from the US, England, and Australia was also relatively easy. It was the simple fact that I was writing about a seventeen year old prisoner of war that prompted me to hug my own adolescent children a little tighter.
The difficulties I had with scripting one of Frederick “Boots” Blesse’s many dogfights were of a much more technical nature and were much more fun to resolve. I wanted to do justice to a story about the man who literally wrote the book on air combat tactics, but since all the flight hours I’ve logged were strictly as a commercial airline passenger, I needed help. Thankfully, I had all the help I needed with everything from aviation jargon to how a pilot would perform various maneuvers thanks to my daughter and to the Eagle Rock Composite Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol. It broke my heart that Maj. Gen. Blesse passed away before he could see our book, but I suspect he would have appreciated that some of this generation’s young cadet airmen would learn and get involved in helping share his story.
I also should give credit to local Korean War vets Don Saville and Gary Lewis, who shared with me their own experiences in Korea and taught me everything they knew about what happened where. Mr. Saville almost literally kept a map in his head of the Korean peninsula from Pusan up to the Yalu River. Thanks also to the folks at Ross’ Guns, who answered all the questions I had about M1 carbines. And especially thanks to all who will help this project go to print by supporting this Kickstarter campaign.
Warning! This post is full of an evening’s worth of fannish contemporary fantasy entertainment! You might want to set aside an evening for this- preferably tonight.
I’ve been feeling particularly lucky these past several days. One of them was that I had just finished reading Cold Days, the seventh book of Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files. Normally, I would not consider that much of an accomplishment, except that I never just read one book at a time. In this case, I was also reading Journey of Heroes while also trying to keep up with the FUBAR books, The Shadow, The Dresden Files comics, Wolverine and the X-Men, and The Walking Dead.
Then I found out that I had pulled that off in time for Jim Butcher’s birthday, which also happens to be the birthday of my brother Kreg and my friend Robert. (Happy birthday you guys. Stay out of trouble!) So here’s a little present. I’m not actually writing a book review, though I did indeed like Cold Days and eagerly look forward to the next installment, Skin Game. Rather I will share how some people I suppose we could call Dresden-philes have chosen to pay tribute.
We “officially” premiered this movie at Missoula, Montana’s MisCon back in May, and Jim Butcher just so happened to be a guest. I also say “we,” because it’s not just another crazy coincidence that all the people listed in the credits have the last name of Finnigan. Like a lot of fanfilms, this was a family affair. Rather than just waste an entire panel talking about how awesome our movie was, however, we showed a preview for another fanfilm that was, at the time, still a work in progress.
What did Jim Butcher think? After he saw our movie and the trailer, he had this to say to Tower of Turtles Productions, the people who made this next movie.
Because you’ve put up with my rambling so far, I won’t just show the preview. I’ll reward you with the whole thing. Just another warning – This movie is not for the little ones.
A little while ago, I stumbled over an article in Stars and Stripes that made me immediately make room in my comic book budget for another purchase. Writer Stacey Hayashi and artist Damon Wong, along with a legion of supporters, gave some of the lesser known stories of World War II a manga-style treatment- using chibis.
My tastes for comic books and military history as well as a desire to see the US Army’s “Most Decorated and Decimated” 100th Infantry Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team get more of the recognition they deserve prompted me to consider buying the book. Curiosity dictated that I obtain the book as soon as possible. While I thought a manga would be interesting, I just had to know how chibis, which I regarded as little two-dimensional embodiments of everything cutesy, could possibly appropriately depict some of our bravest and most overlooked soldiers as they faced the bloodiest fighting on the European front.
The 100th and the 442nd, for those who don’t already know, were made up entirely of Nisei- second generation Americans of Japanese ancestry. Buddhaheads came from Hawaii, spoke pidgin, and were much better off than the kotonks, a lot of whom came from the internment camps on the mainland. They had a tough time getting along at first- the kotonks getting their nickname from the sound of their heads hitting the floor during brawls. The book touches on how these soldiers from such different backgrounds came to understand each other. Eventually, they found commonalities besides being American and Japanese. Their ideals were a quintessentially American blend of Old World and New, and they fought and sacrificed to prove it.
The book follows our average Buddhahead from Hawaii, on a trip to an internment camp to gain some perspective, and off to battle in Italy and France, with a flash forward showing what was to come for those who survived. The language is plain and concise, accented with just enough pidgen to make it seem authentic without compromising the ability of a mainlander like me with only a smattering of Japanese to fully understand. The matter-of-fact manner in which some lines are written also emphasizes by stark contrast the physically and emotionally harrowing nature of the journey.
As for the chibis, they’re cute, but not inappropriately so. They seem to better express the emotions the soldiers experienced- from fun and camaraderie, to grief, horror, exhaustion, and courage- without going comically overboard. Drawing everyone in the book in such a manner or even daring to give such treatment to such serious topics like war and racism was a huge gamble. I suppose, however, that it would only be appropriate for a book about a combat team with the motto of “Go for broke.”
The gamble paid off. I did not regret having purchased an extra copy to give to someone I know who’s more than deserving, and the copy I’m keeping for myself already has a place among my favorite comics. If you want to similarly add this to your collection of favorites, you can order it at http://www.442comicbook.com.