The Boys We Knew

The Boys We Knew, the sequel to The Secret of Their Midnight Tears, is now available in both paperback and e-book form. You can download a copy to your Kindle, order from Amazon, or see me, as the first batch of copies just arrived at my house. (And I know that some of you have to have that real copy in your hands!)

The Boys We Knew begins on December 31, 1942, just a few weeks after The Secret of Their Midnight Tears ends, or perhaps I should say, “pauses.” The latest novel pauses shortly after D-Day. And I say “pauses” again because a third and final volume is planned.

Elizabeth Bittner is the town’s telegrapher, an important job, which has also made her the bearer of terrible news to some of the town’s families. Her closest friend, Veronica Marsh is helping her father manage a group of young Victory Farm Volunteers. The two girls contribute to the war effort by organizing a War Bond drive, donating to the scrap drives, and writing letters to Veronica’s brother, Buck, and their friend, Johnny, who are in the Pacific. Ever concerned for the welfare of “their boys,” Elizabeth and Veronica are anxious for their return, but as the girls become conscious of how the war is changing them, they begin to wonder: Will the boys who come home to us—if they do come home—be the boys we knew?

Two new characters are doing their part to win the war. Jimmy Hardy, who was dating Elizabeth finds himself as part of the invasion force storming Utah Beach on D-Day. High school freshman Hannah Wightman is part of the Victory Farm Volunteers, spending her summer tending tomato plants with several classmates on the Marsh farm.

At one point, several of the characters attend a war bond rally at the local textile factory. This scene is based on an article that appeared in the July, 1943 Butler Brothers company newspaper of which my mother was a contributing editor for the Baltimore plant. The three servicemen who are introduced to the crowd in Marsh Point are real, as is their story. Here is an excerpt from this particular chapter titled, “July 21, 1943.”

Mr. Harbaugh introduced Petty Officer Shelby Pits of the Naval Industrial Relations Department, who in turn introduced the three men who had been sitting quietly on the flatbed truck that had been pressed into service as an outdoor stage. Each was in the dress uniform of his service branch.

The first was Private Robert Chapin a Marine who was serving as a gunner on the U.S.S. Yorktown when it was sunk. He was also in the first wave at Guadalcanal and wore on his chest a Purple Heart.

The second was Seaman Basil Izzi whose ship was torpedoed in November and who survived 83 days aboard a life raft on raw fish and birds.

The third was a merchant seaman, John McCarthy whose vessel carrying vital supplies to England was also torpedoed at night in the North Atlantic. The sixteen days he spent in a life raft resulted in four months in a naval hospital for treatment of frozen feet, hands, arms and legs.

These three, along with Petty Officer Pits, were just beginning a tour of factories in the Mid-Atlantic. Already they had appeared at Bethlehem Steel in Baltimore, Fairchild Aircraft in Hagerstown, and at the B & O Roundhouse in Martinsburg. From Marsh point they would visit plants in Lynchburg, Bedford, Roanoke, Richmond, Petersburg, and the Portsmouth Naval Yards. No longer fit for active duty, they were still useful on the home front urging the folks to work hard and buy war bonds.

Each spoke briefly, but sincerely about the need for LeBeau Brothers employees to take pride in their work and to produce the best clothing possible. Private Chapin in particular urged them to never miss a day and to buy bonds. Seeing so many school-aged children in the audience, he added, “And you kids, skip that Saturday morning Western at the movie house and buy stamps instead.” Pausing, he added, “I apologize if the owner of the local theater is present,” a remark which was followed by great laughter.

Finally, Petty Officer Pits stood up once more and invited Claire Morrison to the stage. She was helped up onto the truck and remained by his side as he spoke once more to the crowd.

“You all know of Mrs. Morrison’s sacrifice and, therefore; I need not detail it here. While she may have lost her son, she has not lost her resolve to do all that she can to win this war. Ladies and gentlemen, I introduce to you the Chairwoman of Marsh Point’s Red Cross Bandage Committee.”

Great applause broke out as Mrs. Morrison informed everyone that the committee would meet every Thursday at Zion Methodist Church at 7:00 to roll bandages for the troops and that LeBeau was donating all the material.

Clearly the end of the program had been reached, but no one had had presence of mind to plan any kind of closing or benediction. Avery Harbaugh was about to ask Reverend Frye to come up and pronounce one, when Seaman Izzi stepped forward and began to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Everyone joined in, the singing growing ever louder.

“Thank you,” said Seaman Izzi as the home of the brave brought the National Anthem to its conclusion. He nervously circled his white hat in his hands. “We used to sing a lot on board the raft.”

Hannah, who was in a group that included her mom, the Marshes and the Bittners had all heard the words of the “Star-Spangled Banner” drift across the Rowatoba River, languid in the mid-summer sun, but in her mind’s eye she saw Seaman Izzi in a raft drifting in an empty ocean, fighting to maintain hope.

“Heroes don’t look like you think they’ll look,” she said to no one in particular.

I hope you enjoy The Boys We Knew. Reviews on Amazon are important for broader marketing and I would be most appreciative if you would write one, however brief.

About Austin Gisriel

You know the guy that records a baseball game from the West Coast in July and doesn't watch it until January just to see baseball in the winter? That's me. I'm a writer always in search of a good story, baseball or otherwise.
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