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Things you shouldn’t do

…early in the morning, before finishing your first cup of coffee, with a cat on your lap. And one of those things is to answer a comment on your blog about your stories!

A very kind gentleman wrote to me to express his appreciation for my novels, and to tell me a little about his father. I’m saying “gentleman” and “father” because the mistake I made was, somehow, to erase his comment! So instead of replying directly to him, I’m writing this post.

I guess I’m saying I should know better than to try and do too many things at once, especially early (-ish) in the morning.

There may even be some way to resurrect that comment, but I think I’m just going to have to own up to my mistake, say mea culpa, and move on with what I wanted to say, which was thank you.

What’s your name, pal? Stan, or Sam? Maybe you can tell I’m not too happy with myself. I read about your dad, who was with the 49th Fighter Group in the SW Pacific. He wanted to fly, like so many youngsters of his generation, and only poor eyesight kept him out of the cockpit. But he still followed his dream; if he couldn’t fly himself, he could keep ’em flying.

I understand the modern USAF has a saying, “No Air Power without Ground Power.” Imagine this guy standing under a hot sun. It’s the tropics, so that sun shines down from directly above, and New Guinea? Guys who were in Vietnam might compare notes with guys who served in New Guinea for which theater qualified as “Boonies Numbah Ten Thou.” Further, bad chow, no fresh meat, fruit, milk, or vegetables, for months on end. Some accounts even say the medical staff of the 5th Air Force worried about scurvy. That’s how bad the situation was from a supply standpoint.

My commenter also mentioned his father was at Dobodura. “Dobo” has an interesting place in the history of the theater. Before the Japanese landing at Buna (July 1942) the Allies scouted the north coast of Papua New Guinea near Buna for a forward landing field. The region between Dobodura and Popondetta was selected, but in the event building an airfield at Dobodura had to wait until the Australian Army could push the Japanese back over the Owen Stanley Mountains to their start line at Buna and Gona.

My commenter’s father was there for that. How I wish I could have spoken to him!

In the event the man in question continued to serve our country until finally retiring from the reserves as a Lieutenant Colonel. That’s pretty awesome.

So, pal, I hope you read this, because I really want to know your name, and maybe we could exchange emails and you could tell me a little more about your father? I have an ulterior motive, after all. He was there in the time frame I’m writing for book six in my series, Shoestring’s End. I’m not a historian, but I try to keep my fiction as true to history as I can.

Some people would say I need all the help I can get. Hope you see this and respond, but anyway, thank you, and my thanks to your father for his service.

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Looking Forward

Writing a series, for me, is an evolutionary process. The work changes you; you change the work. It’s a constant learning experience.

Right now, with The New Kids published, I’m looking forward not only to the next book in the series, but those that come after. I’m far from done with Jack and Charlie, their families, and the friends they make along the way.

For the immediate future, I’m working on a novel I originally called CARTWHEEL, with Jimmy Ardana among others involved in the fighting centered around the reduction of the Japanese base at Rabaul. However, at the time of the story’s setting, that operation was named ELKTON.

ELKTON is not as cool a name as CARTWHEEL. So now I’m in search of a new name. At present I’m torn between Cheap at the Price or Shoestring’s End. It’ll probably come clear to me as I work.

It won’t be too much of a spoiler to say that 1943 will be an interesting year for my characters. Other than the above at least three other novels will be set in 1943. Hopefully I might get those done within the next two years!

That’s all for now. I’ve got to plan a night-time raid on shipping in Simpson Harbor. At masthead height, in a B-17. Don’t quite know yet what Danny Evans will think about that…

Shameless self-promotion: you can find The New Kids on Amazon Kindle, available through Kindle Unlimited, as an ebook, or as a paperback, at

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THE NEW KIDS is Live on Kindle!

This is just a quick notice that the fifth novel in my “No Merciful War” sries, The New Kids, is now live and available as an ebook on Amazon Kindle!

More later, have to run errands this morning, and only put it up late yesterday. I still have some dress-up work to do, but it’s available.

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Ghosts of Facebook

Ghosts are a real thing, and they exist on Facebook.

I know this because Facebook keeps reminding me of, among other things, a friend’s birthday. Or a post I shared with that friend, or that was shared with me, one or two or six years in the past. Or it’s the occasion of our “Friendversary.”

So today, November 26, is my friend J. R. Hafer’s birthday. I got that notification a few minutes ago, and sat there looking at it for awhile. Mostly because J.R. passed away in 2018, a few days before his birthday.

I don’t remember our the date of our “Friendversary,” but I remember very well the first time I met J.R. He grew up here in Hickory, NC, and would visit from his home in Florida with his lovely wife Myra. J.R. belonged to that oddball fraternity of pilots and aviation enthusiasts, the Hickory Aviation Museum, and at that time I worked at the Hickory Regional Airport. I think I was in the terminal building, probably replacing trashbags or checking the bathrooms or something equally glamorous. J.R. came up with a mutual acquaintance from the Museum, who performed introductions.

At the time I had just published my first book, Everything We Had, about two brothers caught up in the early Pacific air war in 1941. We were talking about books and of course, being an aggressive author in search of readers, I asked why he hadn’t read MY book. I think it took him aback a little bit, but we exchanged addresses and I sent him a complimentary copy.

There’s a stage when you first start publishing where you are on absolute pins and needles about the reception of your (baby!) book. You’ve absolutely no idea how it will be received, and, of course, you know you’re the best writer around (writers are like fighter pilots that way), you just hope everyone else sees that too. Unlike fighter pilots, a writer can’t crawl up a reader’s six and … well, complete that image in your own mind. Every sale is a victory, let’s put it that way.

In truth I’d half-forgotten about sending the book to J.R., and when, two weeks later, I got a phone call from a number with a Florida area code I started not to answer it. Durned telemarketers, I thought, and answered it anyway.

It was J.R.

Calling me to rave about my book. Which rave review he backed up with another on Amazon.

You HOPE for things like that. And when it happens you’re floored. Sort of like, “You mean, I really am almost as good as I have to tell myself I am to keep writing?”

I remember that moment distinctly. There don’t tend to be too many moments like that in your life.

Today is J.R.’s birthday, and I wish he were still here, because I’d like to share with him that my new book, The New Kids, should be available on Amazon by mid-December.

Personally I believe in ghosts, and not just the ghosts on Facebook. So I hope J.R., and the other phantoms of my personal pantheon, are looking over my shoulder right now. Hopefully they’re all rolling their eyes and prodding me with ectoplasmic fingers and saying something like, “Don’t brag about it until you hit the SEND button!”

Anyway, J.R., this one’s for you. Happy birthday, and I wish you were still around so I could share this one with you.

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Release of The Struggles On Audible

Over the last five months I narrated and produced my first audiobook, The Struggles, now available on Audible and coming to Amazon and iTunes in time for the weekend!

For the audio version I did a lot of edits on the stories as originally published, mostly cleaned up the prose and added a bit here and some new, hopefully better, ideas there, as well as including two new stories, “Divine Wind” and “Reboot” and a poem, “Delivery Driver.”

Given all those edits I’m going to pull the present ebook edition of The Struggles from Kindle and submit the revised edition. I’ll try to do that over the next week or two.

Narrating and producing an audiobook for the first time as an almost total noob to the field was challenging. I won’t say it was a steep learning curve but it did mean a lot of trial and error and patience (NOT one of my virtues) and listening carefully to recordings for the sound quality as much as content. I think I came pretty close to studio standard, for recording in my study and having to stop while the garbage trucks go down the street or helicopters fly over or the cat decides to hop up on my lap and help me work.

I found that narrating a story is almost as satisfying to the creative process as writing a story. Many of the same sensations as well, not really wanting to sit down and do it, and wishing you weren’t while you are, but then when you’re done for the day you think “that wasn’t so bad” and in awhile you’re looking forward to doing it again.

Here’s a link to the book on Audible where you can also listen to a free sample.

Thanks for listening! Hope you enjoy it.

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Turn the Cup

Last week Lt. Col. Richard Cole, USAF-Ret., passed away on April 8. Col. Cole was the last surviving member of Doolittle’s Raiders at 103. During the mission he flew as copilot in the lead airplane.

One can only imagine what Cole felt during that mission, but try, if you will, for a moment, to put yourself in his place. It is the morning of April 18, 1942. America and its Allies are losing the war in the Pacific.

Pause and reflect on that. Seventy-seven years ago, this country was losing its war against Japan. Japan started the war with a surprise attack against the US Navy’s Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor. The day before that attack, the overwhelming majority of people in the US were against any involvement in the war in Europe, or active involvement in the war between Japan and China. Afterward, on the morning of December 8, young American men lined up for blocks outside of recruiting offices to enlist and fight Japan.

Only America didn’t have a lot to fight with, and wouldn’t for months to come. Those young men lining up to enlist that Monday morning would learn close-order drill with obsolete Springfield rifles, at best, and at worst, they’d drill with broomsticks as their fathers did in World War One. On that morning, America’s air forces had only a handful of heavy bombers to carry the war to the enemy, nearly all of them obsolete or obsolescent. The fighters that would clear the skies of Axis aircraft were still in their test phase. Medium bombers like the B-25 and the B-26 were only beginning to come off the assembly line.

The oceans protecting America from attack also prevented us from easily reaching our enemies in Europe and Asia.

But we could put sixteen B-25 medium bombers on the deck of an aircraft carrier, something neither bomber nor carrier had been designed for, and send that aircraft carrier close enough to Japan so that those medium bombers would have the range to attack Japan and fly to airfields in China. That was the plan. It gave the bomber crews at least a chance of survival.

In the event the task force sent to attack Japan was dis covered by a Japanese picket boat who radioed the news of their presence before being sunk.

Doolittle and his men had the range to strike Japan. They didn’t have the range to reach the Chinese airfields where they might reasonably hope to land, and live to fight another day. At best, they could reach the Chinese coast, most of which was occupied by the Japanese, where the odds of capture were very high. To attack Japan now meant the odds of surviving the mission were very small indeed.

It was already a volunteer mission, but the discovery of the task force well east of their planned launch point changed everything. Doolittle again asked for volunteers. He got them. All of them volunteered to go, knowing the odds against survival, already bad, were now much worse. It hadn’t become a suicide mission, but it was close.

I suspect, sitting in the cockpit of Doolittle’s B-25, looking at a very, very short stretch of flight deck, pitching up and down in the heavy sea running at the time, Richard Cole was afraid. I suspect he wasn’t alone. But I’m also certain he focused on his job, which was to help Jimmy Doolittle get their B-25 off the deck of the USS Hornet. I know that, because every B-25 got off the deck of the Hornetand attacked Japan.

That moment in history, along with many others in those first grim months of the war that put America’s back to the wall, should have served as a warning to the dictatorships of Japan and Germany that democracy does not produce weaklings or cowards. Democracy produces men and women whose stake in their country is far greater, even immeasurably greater, than those who serve the whim of a single person. To die for the Emperor, or der Fuehrer, is to die for a man, however vainglorious the trappings of office. To risk your life for America is to put your life on the line for every single one of your compatriots, for all Americans, that the idea of America may survive. Not for a man. For the ideal.

I believe everyone on that mission understood that ideal. And now the last living link to that moment, that mission, is severed. But their willingness to risk that sacrifice, in that mission, in that moment, meant the survival of the ideal that is most truly America.

The damage done to Japan by the bombs of Doolittle’s Raiders was relatively insignificant. Japan itself barely noted the raid.

Imagine the effect, though, upon discouraged Americans, bludgeoned by one defeat after another, with the forces of the Axis seemingly unstoppable and triumphant, when banner headlines carried the news: TOKYO BOMBED!

The exaltation of a moment when hope is renewed, when faith is renewed, when belief is renewed, is something we should seek to understand and always remember. It shouldn’t be moments in a war, not alone. When justice prevails in this country, when freedom is renewed and strengthened for every American, when the future becomes brighter and more accessible to all, those are the moments when the ideal of America is clarified. And those are the moment from which we draw the courage to look down a heaving flight deck and fling ourselves into the unknown to keep that idea, that ideal, alive.

In an earlier post I wrote about Richard Cole and the cups the Doolittle Raiders drank from at their reunions. One by one, as the survivors of the mission and the war passed away, those cups were turned over. Now the last cup is turned, and the last living link to what it was like to fly off a carrier deck and bomb Japan, in what, truthfully, was no more than the sort of gesture that tells an enemy the fight isn’t over, that link is dissolved.

Now all we have is history too easily forgotten. For the last cup, the last living link, is turned over. Now we must all remember the meaning behind those cups.

For those of us who remember, though, thank you, Col. Cole. Thank you for drinking from the cup. Thank you, and all who were with you, for your part in America.

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Like Looking Through a Window

If you haven’t seen Peter Jackson’s documentary film “They Shall Never Grow Old” you should do so. In many ways it might be one of the most incredible films I’ve ever seen.

The film takes archival footage from the Imperial War Museum and BBC oral history interviews with World War I veterans to tell the story of soldiers in the Royal Army during World War I. Jackson chose this point of view for a look in depth at one aspect of the history of the war, and one may easily imagine a monumental documentary series done in the same fashion consisting of who knows how many episodes, covering different campaigns and services. The Royal Navy and the Royal Flying Corps are not mentioned, and I’d purely love to see the same treatment given to the RFC!

Everyone has seen the silent black-and-white film taken during the war. It tends to be grainy, either over- or under-exposed, scratched, jerky, and the motion of people looks awkward and hurried. The latter is due to the frame rate imposed by hand-cranked cameras in use at the time, which might be cranked at anywhere between ten frames a second or eighteen.

Jackson and his production team took the original film and processed it so that the original black and white appears very close to something that would have been shot as B&W with contemporary methods. The images are clean, crisp, properly exposed, and move at a frame rate restoring natural motion.

That in itself is a remarkable achievement.

However, the colorization process resulted in something positively unique. I’m going to say nothing more about it. You simply must see the film.

All of that, however, is as nothing beside the use of imagery to tell a story, and I will give one example. The series of images with the soldiers in the Sunken Lane prior to the Battle of the Somme will rend your heart. The images are clear enough that you can see the emotion on those faces. You may think you know what to expect in terms of fear and apprehension and even excitement, but that’s knowledge without experience.

These faces are right in front of you, almost as if you were looking through a window and not watching a film. And, as Peter Jackson points out, most of the lads in that picture were probably dead within an hour after it was taken.

One further thing among many deserves mention. The interviewees make the point that after the war, the people on the home front didn’t want to hear from the veterans what it was like. I think it would be interesting to know why that’s so, because to me it seems short-sighted, if only from the perspective of ignoring history. An experience in history paid with so much blood and suffering and waste and destruction should be told and retold and examined from every angle. It was called “the war to end all wars” and so it should have been. We all know it was not, and in fact was followed within a generation by another war even more terrible in all respects.

We owe it to those who were there to hear and understand, as best we are able, their story. Peter Jackson has given us a unique opportunity to do exactly that.

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