To the Halls of Montezuma

Marine Museum

This past Thursday, I took a trip with about 12 other seniors from our Senior Adult group at church to the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico. I’m at the lower end of the age spectrum for the group at 67, while we have some folks who are near 90. They enjoy these excursions which once a month to have meals together, gather for various purposes and take tours of local attractions like this one.

We first went to the Semper Fidelis Chapel, a lovely local field stone and wood structure with soaring windows in the front that gave out onto a beautiful forest. The pews were padded benches without backs, while a ship’s bell from Guam graced the entryway. We stayed there a while and then went over to the nearby museum.

Walking up to the entrance, I was impressed by the concrete and steel construction. A soaring spire atop the roof, easily visible from nearby I-95, sits at the same angle as the standard in the famous flag raising at Iwo Jima. I believe the concrete elements suggest the defensive capabilities of the Marines as they have helped guard our country for 240 years, while the spire stands for the ongoing spirit whereby they have carried the fight to our enemies. The spire could also stand for the high standards of the Marines and their absolute dedication to duty.

Becky and I had been at the museum several times with the Ensemble from the Manassas Chorale to sing, but we had never toured  it. All of us were in for something special.

Aircraft from World Wars I and Ii and the modern era hung from the high vaulted ceiling while a Sikorsky helicopter sat in a display depicting Marines disembarking during the Korean War.  Aircraft from all the wars after World War I also hung from the ceiling, while other aircraft sat in various galleries, making up an amazing collection of historic airplanes. Other exhibits included tanks, jeeps, ambulances, tracked amphibious vehicles and even the front half of a Marine bus used to transport inductees to their training!

We bore left into the first of the galleries, which showed the Marines’ involvement in the Revolution, the War of 1812  and the Civil and Spanish-America Wars. The next set of displays  depicted Marines’ service during the First World War, including  the uniforms, weapons and battles of that conflict, with a special station about the Battle of Belleau Wood, in which the Corps sustained more fatalities during the 21 day battle than in their history to that point.

World War II came next, with exhibits detailing the lives of draftees and those of people on the home front, including a huge tube-type radio newsreels and cartoons from the time. A Jeep sat in the middle of the gallery, and the last displays gave special place to the events and people of V-J Day.

Subsequent galleries depicted the Marines’ involvement in conflicts up to the present, including Korean, Viet Nam, the Gulf Wars,  and Afghanistan. Pictures of troops returning to their families recently lined the long hallway to the cafeteria, with joy and pride of wives, children and relatives welcoming their Marines home highly evident. It was a touching and fitting recognition of both troops and their families.

The last exhibit detailed the role of music in the Marine Corps, including the famous Marine Band and their director John Phillips Sousa. I learned that the tune of “Hail to the Chief” came from a Puccini opera called The Lady of the Lake.

We had been there an hour and a half, looking at the exhibits (but not reading all the placards), and decided it was time for lunch. The museum offers two places to eat: the Devil Dog Diner,  a cafeteria offering a variety of food, while Tun Tavern (named after the original Tun Tavern in Philadelphia where legend has it that the Marine Corps was founded in 1775), styled after a colonial era tavern, features a full lunch menu with table service.

We chose the diner in the interests of time and found the food to be quite good and varied. One bit of advice: check out all the offerings. Soup, for example, was located at the end of the line where most people would not expect it. I recommend the pizza, which Becky and I had, which featured a homemade crust. Others in the group enjoyed their choices as well.

Walking to the car, I looked back and reflected on the rich heritage of the Marines and the role they have played for over two hundred years to guarantee our freedoms and way of life through their skill, courage, commitment to duty and willingness to pay the ultimate price. Make it a priority to visit this place. It’s the least you can do for those who gave so much to all of us.

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What’s Goin’ On

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-kA3UtBj4M

I haven’t written here in nearly three months, and a lot has happened.

I sent the manuscripts for Diamond Duty, the Civil War baseball novel I wrote about in June and Mata’s Story, which re-tells the events of the Beyond the Blue Horizon series from the point of view of Mata (neé  Kerchner), Otto Kerchner’s sister.

I arranged for an audiobook to be made of On Wings of the Morning  through ACX.com, a recording service run by Amazon.com along the lines of Createspace. I posted part of the manuscript and received bids from five “producers,” chose one, and sent him the whole book. He should be finished in a  couple of weeks, and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with! This is very exciting! You can tell by the number of exclamation points I’m using!!!!!!

My role with Prince William Living has changed. I’m not longer a copy and production editor (although I’m sure I will still do some editing), but am adding articles for the print magazine to the online work I’ve been doing. In this, I’m working with a wonderful writer with a lot of journalistic experience, Colleen La May, who moved here from Idaho where she was a magazine and newspaper writer. We’re going to be producing articles on the Prince William County Poet Laureate program and on the Little Library initiative, in which small boxes decorated like schools or toy boxes or telephone booths are stocked with a variety of books in a number of places such as parks, schools, and clubs. Borrowers are free to take books and leave some in their place.

Alice Mergler and the Schoolhouse Little Library

(Photo by Victor Rook)

Here’s Alice Mergler, founder of the New School, in front of the school with he first Little Library.

So, I’ve been busy but I’m enjoying it. I’m between books now, and I miss the discipline of writing daily. I’m not sure what my next project may be. It might be Beyond the Blue Horizon Book Six, On the Wings of Hope, which could appear in January, 2017. We’ll see. But I promise to keep you better informed about what I’m doing. I should have plenty of time to keep up my blogs, and I hope you’ll enjoy what I write there. And so, as the French would say, “A bientôt, mes amis!”

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Once More into the Breach

Civil War Baseball

I started another novel a few days ago, and it’s not about airplanes, flying or families of German ancestry. Those will keep coming, but this novel is different. It’s about a young fellow named Caleb King who joins the Confederate Army at nineteen and has exactly ten minutes of combat experience when he and his sqaud are captured at First Manassas and sent to the Old Capitol Prison in Washington, D. C. While held there, he is introduced to baseball. The rest of the story is about his life in prison and also about the games played between guards and prisoners. This actually did happen, and I’m having a good time finding out what I need to know to write a convincing story. I’ll report my progress every once in a while, and if my publisher likes it, my Civil War baseball novel could be out in about a year. Stay tuned and thanks for reading!

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Mata’s Story

A young woman on a Wisconsin farm in the 1940’s.

Yesterday I finished the first draft of Mata’s Story, a novella (at this point–I plan to revise it to novel length, the lower limit for which is 40,000 words. I now have 30,000) that tells parts of the story told in the Beyond the Blue Horizon series, about the adventures and fortunes of Otto Kerchner, Wisconsin farm boy who becomes a bomber pilot in World War II, goes on to command a bomber squadron in the Korean War and comes home to good times and bad in the small town of Pioneer Lake.

Mata’s Story had its start when Christopher Dixon and Jesse Greever, my wonderful publishers at eLectio Publishing in Texas, asked all their authors to write a story taken from their novels. I wrote “A Christmas for Mata,” about Otto’s sister waiting for him to come home on the train for Christmas, 1942. That account became Chapter 30 in the book, “A Christmas Apart.” Here’s a selection about Mata waiting for the train to come in to the station:

We lived south of town, and the train actually ran past our farm. I had to drive north to Pioneer Lake to the small station on the Milwaukee Roads line. Pioneer Lake was of course much small then, and all the shops had closed for Christmas Eve by the time I went through town. The day was overcast, with light fading fast as the sun sank behind the trees. I had to turn my car lights on the last mile or so.
I remember standing on the platform of the station, huddled against the cold in my cloth winter coat I had worn for ten seasons, turning my back to the frigid Wisconsin wind with my head down. We knew there would be no new clothing for us on the home front, or not much, so our motto was “Make it do, use it up or do without.” And we did.
I raised my head briefly, blinking back tears from my eyes caused by the wind. The train wasn’t in sight. Silly girl, I scolded myself. It wasn’t necessary to see it. I would hear the whistle of the steam locomotive long before it arrived around the bend.

I printed some copies of “A Christmas for Mata” and shared them with local readers, who reacted favorably. Then I thought of writing some other episodes from Mata’s point of view. I used limited omniscient for the books in the Beyond the Blue Horizon series, which meant that Otto had to either be present at an event or hear about it. Mata tells her stories to me in first person, which is easier to write, but also more personal.

I organized the book around a special day in each month, although I found that Mata didn’t always stick to the subject. She was 93 when I interviewed her, and if I’m writing about her as if she were an actual person, it’s because these characters have come alive for me. I never know what they’re going to do. I put them in a situation and then they act in a way that is true to their background and experience. It’s challenging, but also the most fun I’ve ever had.

After I revise the manuscript a few times, I’m going to send it to my publisher. I hope they’ll like it, and I hope readers will enjoy the story as much as I enjoyed writing it.

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Yet Another Instance of Synchronicity

Synchronicity

I have been taking posters around town (Manassas, VA) for local businesses to put up to publicize a local event for the week-long Fall for the Book, hosted on the Fairfax and Prince William campuses of George Mason University campuses (Visit http://fallforthebook.org/ for more information) and stopped by the Hylton Center for the Performing Arts to pick up some more posters. While I was there, I came across the Hylton Center Executive Director, Rick Davis, in the midst of a tour with a distinguished-looking man and an elegant woman I took to be his wife. Rick’s guests were in fact Delegate Richard Anderson and his wife Ruth. Rick graciously introduced me as a local author, and when I told them about my books, Delegate Anderson and his wife exchanged a look that let me know they had a connection to the subject of my novels.

Anderson explained that he had worked to ensure that Merle Robinson, a World War II turret gunner on a B-17 (the aircraft flown by my protagonist, Otto Kerchner) would receive a Silver Star that he had earned during the war by shooting down three German fighters which were about 200 aircraft who attacked his formation during a mission to bomb an airfield. Robinson bailed out and spent a year in a stalag luft.

Delegate Anderson bought both my books as presents for Robinson’s birthday and explained that he would be honored at an upcoming banquet. He said he would put something about the novels in a press release about the event.

Some days things just work out well. I appreciate Delegate Anderson’s interest and the part he has taken in honoring one member of the Greatest Generation and by extension, all of them.

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Progress Report: “On the Wings of Faith,” Book 5 in the “Beyong the Blue Horizon” Series

Cessna Amphibian

I’m about 11,000 words in to the fifth book in the series and starting to catch up to where I thought I should be at this point. I thought I would have 21,000 now, but we’ve been dealing with four (count ’em four) automobile accidents, my sinus surgery and the start of radiation therapy for me as well as the usual thousand natural shocks that all our mortal flesh is heir to (or something like that). Be that as it may, I wanted to give you Faithful Readers a slice of Book Five. This is from the fifth chapter with the working title of “South of the Border.” I’ll change that because it is just a place holder, but I don’t know that may be at this point. I’ll keep you informed.

In December, 1959,  Otto Kerchner’s pastor asks him to substitute for a hospitalized missionary pilot for two weeks and fly his regular route in Colombia along the Rio Meta on the border with Venezuala. Otto agrees, and with his friend Bob Donovan (his copilot during World War II), his mechanic and ace pitcher Luis Viera, and a young man from the missionary society named Jerome, they set off to the first stop. When Bob tried to land, matters become…interesting…Enjoy!

                                                                              Chapter 5
                                                                       South of the Border
                                                                         December, 1959

Otto glanced over at Bob who was attempting a landing north of El Loro on the Rio Casanare, and it looked very tricky. The FBO reported calm conditions, but when they made a low pass over the ramshackle building that served as a trading post and supply depot, from what Otto could tell from the right seat, it looked very tricky. They had both noticed tell-tale signs of higher water than expected, pushed by upstream winds. Neither of them had much experience with landing on choppy rivers. Bob took over after Otto had flown most of the mission so Otto let him have the landing.
“You want me to take this?” he asked.
“Nah, I got it.”
Not only was the river running high and fast, there was considerable debris that had washed in with the night’s rains. Otto saw branches of trees, small buildings, and even a couple of dead pigs and a bloated cow.
“Do you think we ought to abort?”
Bob shook his head. “Nah. We’re bingo on fuel and can’t reach any place else. This is it.”
“All right then. Everyone make sure your seat belts are good and tight.” In the rear view mirror, he saw Luis and Jerome cross themselves. If he had been Catholic, he might have done the same. On second thought, he wouldn’t. He had supreme confidence in Bob’s piloting skills, and didn’t want to do anything to rattle him.
“Call out any debris you see,” Bob muttered. “We’re going in!”
Bob flew upwind beside the river, about 400 feet up, then turned on the downwind leg. He positioned the Cessna along the middle of the water and lowered the big amphibian gradually toward the surface of the raging river. “Hang on guys!” he called. “Here we go!”
“Vaca al la derecha!” Luis exclaimed. Otto looked over to see the carcass float by two hundred feet below them.
“Tree branch dead ahead,” he said calmly.
“Got it. One hundred feet.”
“Chicken coop at two o’clock.”
“See it. Fifty feet. Keep your eyes open.”
“Wooden beam to eleven o’clock and closing fast.” As Otto said this, Bob chopped the throttle and the aircraft settled toward the water. With a tremendous metallic tearing sound, the beam speared the left pontoon. The Cessna slewed around, shuddered, and then wrenched free from the post and listed to starboard. Bob revved the engine, and they made a sort of crustacean sideways progress toward the dock, which looked like it had been through a hurricane recently and not been fixed. Four men ran from the trading post and clambered down the side of the, three of them with lines in hand, while the other carried a gaff about ten feet long. He reached over and put the hook around one of the starboard pontoon struts and pulled. As he slowly and carefully drew the airplane to the dock, his compadres lassoed various parts of the craft, pulled it to the dock and secured it. It looked to Otto that it wouldn’t be torn away by the river.
Otto was the first out the door. “¡Muchas gracias, becarios!” he exclaimed fervently. “Estamos en deuda!” The men smiled and laughed. One of them rattled off something in Spanish that Otto couldn’t follow. He turned to Luis and Jerome.
“He wants to know if you will do your trick with the airplane again,” Luis laughed. “They have not had such entertainment for a long time.”
“Tell him I’d be delighted to oblige,” Bob mumbled, “but I have an airplane THAT NEEDS TO BE FIXED!”
One of the men who had helped them spoke up. “Rodriego, who works on such things, is not here. He has gone up the river to visit his family. In any case, we are out of fuel for the welding torch. He can fix it, but he cannot do it without proper materials. Only God can create something out of nothing.” He crossed himself.
“When do you expect a delivery? And your name is?” Otto hesitated.
The man bowed from the waist. “I am Señor Carlos Blanco at your service, señor. And you are?”
Otto returned his bow. “I am Señor Otto Kerchner, and these are my amigos, Señor Donovan, Señor Viera and Señor Hernandez. We are happy to know you. So, when do you think the supplies will be delivered?”
Blanco shrugged. “It is hard to tell. Maybe mañana, maybe the day after. Only God knows.” He crossed himself again. “The man who drives the boat he is fond of the, how do you say, distilled spirits. Sometimes he is drunk for days. It just depends.”
“Is there a way we can get upriver?” Donovan looked thoroughly exasperated.
“Sì. I am the captain of the proud craft, the Santa Maria.” He crossed himself yet another time. I don’t see how this guy gets anything done, crossing himself all the time. Otto smiled.
“The sainted Virgin protects me and all those who are in my boat when we go on the river. There are many dangers, but you will be in safe hands with me. I am very trustworthy.”
Sounds like a sales pitch, Otto thought.
“I know what you are thinking, Señor. You are thinking I am going to charge you a big expensive price. Do not fear, mi amigo. I will charge a modest sum, payable in gold, American dollars or chickens. But I do not think you have bought any chickens. At least they could still fly!” He dissolved into helpless laughter. Donovan looked like he wanted to punch him.
“How much to take us upriver to the settlement at Tres Cascadas?”
“For you, my friend, only 500 American dollars.”
“We’ll give you 300.” Donovan frowned.
“Señor…I must feed my wife and my little family. But I like you, and I will take 450.”
“Three-fifty.”
“Señor, you are a man who knows how to bargain. I like that. 425.”
“Three seventy-five.”
Blanco raised his eyes heavenward. “May the sainted Virgin help me deal with such a determined man. Four hundred.”
“Four hundred it is, then, hombre.” Bob stuck out his hand and Blanco shook it. Otto nearly laughed when Blanco crossed himself for what might have been the fiftieth time since they had landed.
“Very well, it will take me about an hour to prepare my humble craft. In the meantime, I hope you will enjoy the hospitality of mi pobre restaurante. Come this way, por favor, and my nephew Julio will be happy to help you.”

 

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Gardening in the Rain

Gardening in the Rain.

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