A great deal of the inspiration for my just-released World War II novel, The Boys We Knew came from my parents’ experience. The scene in which three servicemen visit the LeBeau Brothers factory, for example, was taken from the Butler Brothers factory newspaper on which my mom was an editor. Petty Officer Shelby Pits, Private Robert Chapin, Seaman Basil Izzi, and John McCarthy were portrayed in the novel just as described by Butler Brothers’ newspaper. Seaman Izzi’s account of his ordeal at sea is available on-line.
I have made another connection with my parents’ experience to the times, one that I think will have to go into the third and final volume of what started with The Secret of Their Midnight Tears. My dad, being a highly structured person, kept a log of his train trip from Seattle, Washington where he disembarked from his destroyer, the USS Gleaves, to Bainbridge, Maryland and the USN Personnel Separation Center, just north of his home in Baltimore, where he was discharged on December 20, 1945. I should say, “their home,” because he and my mom had married on Thanksgiving Day, 1943. Leaving Seattle at 4:30 a.m. on December 13th, the train wound its way through Washington, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania—in fact, the final stop was Harrisburg, where his granddaughter now works for ABC 27—before arriving in Bainbridge perhaps around 3:00 p.m. on the 18th. I say “around” because the note for Harrisburg reads “1400/18” and there is no entry for his arrival at Bainbridge. I can only imagine that in his excitement he forgot to record it.
Just last week I connected this post card that I knew was among my parents’ keepsakes to a song that I’ve heard at least 200 times before. I was listening to the 40s Channel on Sirius Satellite Radio when “Sentimental Journey” began to play. This time, however, when Doris Day sang, “counting every mile of railroad track that takes me back,” I got a chill as Dad’s postcard came to mind. My father had almost certainly heard the song as it hit the charts at the end of March and stayed there for 23 weeks. It was an anthem for the boys and girls returning home and you cannot watch Doris Day talk about that without crying. I can’t, anyway. Had Dad heard that song and decided he would count “every mile” or at least every stop? Whether my dad was inspired by the song or the songwriters were inspired by guys like my dad doesn’t really matter. They were all connected by the joy of victory and homecoming, and now, thanks to the post card he kept, his son and granddaughters and now great-granddaughter are a little more strongly connected to him.
[Click on the link for an excellent video of “Sentimental Journey.”]