An Interview With Sgt. Nutcracker

sgt nutcracker sezWhile I was busy travelling to and from Denver’s Rocky Mountain Con, Gryphon Games and Comics in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and generally gearing up for Veterans’ Day, I took a moment to sit and chat for a while with one of Tiger on the Storm‘s toughest if not biggest supporters, Sgt. Garry Owen Kilroy Nutcracker, US Army.

Valerie: How about if we begin by telling us a bit about your background?

Sgt. Nutcracker: I don’t even know where exactly I came from, whether I was made in the USA or imported from China. But that doesn’t matter quite as much as what I actually am. I’m constructed out of a composite of many different kinds of wood, but my sap and pith are all American.

Valerie: I understand your patriotism. What drives your interest in Tiger on the Storm?

Sgt. Nutcracker: It’s really simple. The Air Force 23rd Tactical Fighter Wing flies A-10 Warthogs. Their Warthogs were first really put to the test in Operation: Desert Storm back in 1991. From then on through today, the Warthogs and their pilots have performed admirably, their close air support and search and rescue capabilities saving the lives of thousands of Marines, soldiers, and anyone else on the ground taking enemy fire. As a cav officer, I consider the Warthogs and their crews our guardian angels.

Valerie: Speaking of your rank, meaning no offense, sir, but where’s your rank insignia?

Sgt. Nutcracker: I’d been so busy going everywhere like anyone with Kilroy in the name does, that I got promoted and still haven’t had time to have the proper stripes painted on.

Valerie: And your mustache?

Sgt. Nutcracker: Some joker decided that I should join the Air Force in Mustache March…

Valerie: … Mustache March being an Air Force tradition rather than Army, right?

Sgt. Nutcracker: Exactly. And this clown painted it on my face while I was asleep. It’s not regulation, but I can’t take it off, so I look permanently like Robin Olds. I’m stuck observing Mustache March year round.

Valerie: It may only be the beginning of November, but people are already gearing up for Christmas. How are you preparing for the holiday?

Sgt. Nutcracker: Nothing. I’m a Nutcracker, so people already think I’m just a Christmas decoration. But I’m actually out all year round. I do have advice for people who are jumping the gun on Christmas, though. Take it easy and keep in mind that Christmas can be tough on some people. Don’t forget that there’s also Veterans’ Day. Think about doing something nice for some Marines, Airmen, Sailors, or my fellow soldiers.

And if you’re already thinking about Christmas presents, a good one would be supporting Tiger on the Storm. The 25th Anniversary of Desert Storm, as you well know, is coming up on January 15. Everyone who served there and their families should appreciate that they are being remembered. Are you going to post the link?

Valerie: Absolutely. As “Sgt. Nutcracker sez,” go to Indiegogo to help Tiger on the Storm go to print.

Tiger on the Storm

Yes, the blog’s been very quiet lately. Life’s been anything but, and one of the things keeping me busiest over the past several months has been work on another graphic novel.

It was at last year’s Salt Lake Comic Con when Pam Sawyer, the daughter of the late Air Force Maj. Gen. David Sawyer, had seen the copies of Untold Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan and Korean War on my table, and requested that I give similar treatment to her father’s journal from his service in Operation: Desert Shield and Desert Storm. I was impressed to hear that her father had commanded the 23rd Tactical Fighter Wing- The Flying Tigers- and jumped at the chance to write this book.

Then I got to work. Being a person on the ground and a civilian, I had to do what I did when writing the account of Boots Blesse for Korean War. I had to admit I didn’t know a thing, research very heavily, and rely on the vast pool of talent and knowledge that is my brain trust to help where even the most thorough research could fail me. Making matters more complicated was the fact that the late Maj. Gen. Sawyer was… well… unable to take my questions. I believe I did his stories due justice, though.

The aircraft themselves also proved a bit of a challenge. Appearance counts for a lot in a visual medium like comics, which is probably why A-10 Warthogs such as those flown by the 23rd TFW don’t appear often in comics. The civilian public wouldn’t line up by the hundreds or thousands to see them in an air show like they would for much prettier F-18 Hornets. While Warthogs are maneuverable enough to do their jobs, they look ugly and sound downright obnoxious.

Get to know them though, and you just may fall in love as much as anyone can with aircraft. In talking with veterans who served on the ground as well as in the air, I learned why the Warthogs are so feared by enemy forces and strongly beloved by our troops. This is why I’m glad to have Korean War penciller Dan Monroe on board doing pencils and inks. His ten years in the Army helped him learn a healthy appreciation of good close air support such as the Warthogs provide.

Also working with us are a couple more Korean War teammates, Eric White on colors and Tom Orzechowski doing the lettering. With the talent on board as well as everyone helping me properly research, the challenges of making sure this book will be awesome seem quite manageable.

There’s just one more big challenge in store- covering the production, printing, and distribution expenses, and this is where everyone can help!–2/x/6957287#/story

Thankful for November

From my childhood on into young adulthood, I did not much like November. I considered it a rather boring month. The political campaigning, which drew to a fever pitch in the first days of the month, did not impress me, and the weather, typically dreary and too often promising snow without delivering enough for skiing, depressed me. Veterans’ Day provided a little light break, typically involving me calling or giving a hug to the vets in my family. And then there was Thanksgiving- fun but a bit stressful at the same time, involving as it did a gathering of my large, loving, loud, and at times deafeningly dysfunctional family.

It seems strange to me that the Thanksgiving holidays from those years that I found most memorable were the ones in which something went wrong. The Thanksgiving we spent in Reno, Nevada, partaking of the buffet at Circus Circus is one example. Meaning no offense to any of the staff there, but that was the driest, most tasteless Thanksgiving dinner I ever had. Another was the year when I had Thanksgiving dinner with just my siblings and our pets. Since we were all broke, our church provided a turkey and a box full of trimmings. I baked up my first pumpkin pie, which turned out surprisingly well. My sister set it out to cool. Then my dog Blue discovered it, and by the time I caught her, she’d eaten half of it. That day, I learned courtesy of the veterinary emergency hotline how to pump a dog’s stomach.

The Thanksgiving dinner we had literally the night before my husband and I got married had all the ingredients for the worst Thanksgiving dinner ever. This time, we had my husband’s family contributing some decibels of dysfunction to our family gathering, and rather than cooking for the whole mob when we had a wedding the next day, we settled for another hotel buffet. Furthermore, both Barry and I had come down hard with colds. But the buffet at the Doubletree Inn by the Boise River was surprisingly good. Everyone got along great. We didn’t have any veterinary emergencies. And for the first time, Thanksgiving stood out in my mind not because of what went wrong, but simply because of what it was. For Barry and me, it was a celebration of what togetherness really means.

I love November now, and everything that comes with it.
I’m thankful for Election Day. I’ve stepped up my observances of Veterans’ Day. And I don’t even mind the weather any more.

Kickstart This! How I Helped Commemorate the “Forgotten War.”

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.

Hello, everybody!

Hello, everybody!.

Valerie Finnigan was born in Glendale, California, where she quickly developed a ravenous appetite for adventure, a taste for science fiction, fantasy, horror, and suspense, and a mind buzzing with big dreams. Some of those dreams led her to make her home in the wilds of Idaho. Some led to her through a variety of careers including firefighting and emergency services. But other dreams (and nightmares) gradually found their way into print. She has been privileged to work on Why Not?, Tiger on the Storm, Korean War, Untold Stories from Iraq and AfghanistanWorst Case Scenario: OutbreakHero by Force, and other projects currently in development.

Treycen Fluckiger is an avid gamer, writer, and human thesaurus. He loves long walks (to Metallica), driving pony cars (also to Metallica), and watching Disney movies. He has been writing stories for five years in many prestigious formats (bathroom stalls, etc.,) and at one point had a dream of selling snake oil out of the back of stagecoach until he found out what horses are. He currently resides in Idaho Falls and enjoys the fact that he can finally write in the third person without sounding pompous or insane. (Eat your heart out Derek Landy. Call me!)

Jon Funes- proud husband, gamer, and overall imaginative sort- when not fighting pirates in his mind, writes while wearing a sock monkey hat to keep in touch with his spirit creature.

Mystie Young’s awesomeness cannot be contained in a single biographical paragraph. She speaks Japanese, knows Ving Tsu Kung Fu, and when her service in the US Army doesn’t keep her too busy, she draws manga.