1940s, authors, books, historical fiction, history, Research, World War II

(6) Writing Historical Fiction: Surviving in the Bataan Jungle

From January through April 1942, the Japanese attacked from the sky and sent waves of soldiers screaming “Banzai” throughout the Bataan Penninsula. The focus of Chapter 3 returns to the perspective of Barbara Kiss, one of two protagonists in the third manuscript “The Lost Sisters of Bataan”. Boxed in at Hospital No. 2, the hospital wards snaked 2.5 miles along the Read River hiding over two thousand patients. What was it like for the nurses, doctors, Filipino civilians, and natives to survive the invasion?

Theresa Kaminski’s book Angels of the Underground is a thorough account of four fascinating women who shared a wanderlust itch to better themselves and who embraced the adventure of their own decisions. They benefited from living as ex-patriots in Colonial Manila living in villas or nice apartments with a maid or cook. After the invasion of Manila, women were ordered to leave the Philippines, but these four chose to stay behind and help. They participated in the Manila underground. They smuggled food, medicine, and money to POWs. They earned their nicknames as the “Angles of Bataan” and their personal stories are nothing short of miraculous. Great! What’s that got to do with my manuscript and how does it help me create the historical climate?

As I imagine the fictional sisters, Barbara and Zorka Kiss into life, as well as Kay Weese the pilot from the second novel Inside the Gold Plated Pistol, there are times when their mere movement creates plausibility concerns. How did the nurses, Red Cross volunteers, and ex-patriots arrive and how did they remain on the beleaguered island of Luzon?

Peggy Utinsky, widowed at twenty and with a small child, looked for a long, exotic vacation and made the three week trip on a ship. She found steady employment on a beautiful island. Six months turned to a year and then two before the Pearl Harbor attack and the Japanese takeover of the Philippines. Claire Phillips had an infant daughter. She went back and forth on a merchant ship or military ship to Seattle and the Philippines before the war began. She saw Manila as a chance to become famous and worked in exotic dance clubs while a Filipino girl named Lolita took care of her daughter. Gladys Slaughter Savary found the Philippines by way of Paris and South America. Beautiful and popular in the European immigrant community, she had a hell of a time in Shanghai and Peking. She married a Frenchman who was an American Engineer and was sent to Manila to help with various projects. They bought a villa and opened a French restaurant. By the time of the Japanese attack, her marriage had failed. Her husband left. She ran her restaurant and helped with the underground. Yay Panlilio‘s roots were Filipino. Her mother stowed away on a ship bound for San Franciso migrating to Denver and married an Irish-American. As a child, Yay lived in tenements, boxcars, and ranch shacks. All Yay wanted to do was be a journalist. She had three young children while working for The Philippines Herald and broadcasted the news on radio station KZRH. Wearing bold pantsuits and exercising her relentless pursuit of stories in the Philippines, she stayed on the island and assisted rogue bands of American-Filipino soldiers who hid on the island. I highly recommend reading this masterfully researched account in Angels of the Underground. As single women with children, they crisscrossed the Pacific, anyway they could get there. Their details lend plausibility to the actions of the fictitous Barbara, Zorka, and Kay.

Barbara Kiss and the ensemble at Hospital No. 2 borrowed the anecdotes from various diaries and letters and situations from Mary Cronk Farrell‘s Pure Grit & Kaminski’s Angels of the Underground. The detailed chronology of Hospital No.1 & 2 and the evacuation to the “The Rock”, Malinta Tunnel, built in the 1920s on Corregidor Island is fascinating. On April 9, 1942, seventy thousand American and Philippine men surrendered unconditionally to the Japanese Imperial Army. Barbara is part of the evacuation and the details of her retreat to Corregidor island will be the focus in a future post.

Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 3

Barbara elected to drive. Kay sat in the passenger seat holding on to the sides of the jeep as it bounced around ruts in the road. The Filipino Scout carried a Springfield rifle and holstered an M1911 pistol. Barbara glanced at the yellow shoulder patch with the red carabao when the road evened out. She asked the Filipino Scout his name. When he replied, she wondered, “Corporal Ramos. Where am I going?” 

He was frowning up at the branches above their heads. “Just drive. I’ll let you know when to turn.” 

Kay looked back over her shoulder at him. Then to Barbara, “Don’t worry, I remember how to get there. It’s not far–maybe eight kilometers away.”

Barbara was nervous. Thirty feet above them, a screeching family of long-tailed macaque leaped from gnarly Balete trees to papaya trees to moss-covered vines. They followed the jeep as shadows rustling through the vegetation. A papaya the size of a melon fell on the narrow road in front of them. Barbara had a creepy sensation the drop was intentional. A brown hairy ball missed the hood of the jeep by inches. Barbara swerved.  

She asked Ramos, “Was that a coconut?” 

“No. Brazil Nut. Speed up. They’re angry.” 

Barbara tried to calm down. Distract yourself. She looked at Kay Weese’s calm demeanor. Maybe if she chatted, she would be able to copy Kay’s nonchalant manner. “Kay, how’d you wind up in the Philippines?” 

She looked at the tip of her braid examining the dead ends, oblivious to the jostling vehicle. “I’ve been a civilian pilot for years. When the war broke out, I opted for the Red Cross. I’m assigned to transport troops and supplies. I help out however I can.”

“How did you end up in Manila?” 

“By accident, really. It took me a couple years to get here. I was on a passenger run carrying medical staff to Sternberg Hospital in Manila. Everyone talked about the upcoming war. When the Japs bombed the shit out of the city, I heard about the evacuation into the jungle. Then I heard some scuttlebutt about Lt. Nesbit. She was looking for a pilot who would smuggle in the wish list for the personnel at Hospital 2. So, I volunteered.”  

A Brazil nut pod the size of a softball hit Barbara on her forehead. She skidded into the ditch. Ramos leaped out of the jeep. Kay leaned to the right and rolled out. Barbara sat up and swallowed hard. The vertigo was intense. There was no mistake–the macaques laughed at her. Barbara thought I never knew they were bullies! No wonder the Japs are caricatured as monkeys.  Kay and Ramos helped her into a standing position. The leaves dipped and the branches flapped.  Barbara was overcome with anger. She wasn’t one for profanity but having heard a steady dose of it since her enlistment, it felt good to expel her fear and frustration through a tirade. She didn’t want to cry, but her eyes filled, and she found herself gasping to control her emotions. Her head was bleeding. She probably had a concussion. 

Kay said, “Come on, I better drive.” 

Ramos aimed his rifle and shot into the leaves. A large male beast fell to the ground gasping, its wild eyes bulging. The tail writhed and slapped the packed dirt. Barbara turned away and heaved.  

Kay frowned at Ramos with disapproval. “Don’t piss them off any more than they already are. Come on, let’s get out of here.” 

Thanks for reading! 

 

1940s, authors, books, historical fiction, history

(4) Writing Historical Fiction: Jewish Neighborhoods and a sister named Zorka

Welcome to a monthly post about the research for the third novel. If you are new to my blog, this project is about 20th Century U.S. History featuring underrepresented voices. There are six books in the series moving forward in time by twenty or so odd years. A character jumps forward to the next book, too. Book One, set in 1900, is called The Knife with the Ivory Handle. You will find the link at the right sidebar if you’re curious. Book Two, set in 1928, is called Inside the Gold Plated Pistol. You’re invited to check out the page for each novel at the top of the blog. Thanks to everyone who read them. I appreciate your time and feedback.

Research Report

This month’s research centers around Judaism in the 1940s, specifically Jewish neighborhoods in Minneapolis. This is the backdrop for the second principal character, Zorka Kiss. While Barbara is in the Philippines making do as a nurse in the jungle at he Bataan Peninsula, back home, little sister Zorka is restless. She meets a Nisei linguist soldier stationed at MISLS, Military Intelligence Service Language School. This sets up two challenges. One, what was it like to live and belong in the northern neighborhood of Minneapolis where an enclave of Jews resided? What was that culture like? Two, what was it like for Japanese-American soldiers who volunteered to join the U.S. Army? How did they face the racism after the attack of Pearl Harbor?

Judaism in Minneapolis

Rhoda Lewin’s Jewish Community of North Minneapolis is a chief reference point for precise names of streets, businesses, family statistics, and life at the synagogue. I’m going with the Beth El Synagogue, formed in 1926. It was located at 14th and Penn Avenue North before it moved to St. Louis Park in the late 1960s. The charismatic Rabbi David Aronson led over four hundred families from mostly Russian, Lithuania, and Romania in the second wave of immigration which occurred in the U.S. from 1870-1920. Of course, they raised families. Their first-generation children were caught in two worlds. Japanese and Asian groups flocked to America looking to escape economic hardship. When they did, ethnic regionalism occurred. That is, immigrant families tended to congregate to neighborhoods where work, personal histories, language, and religion were similar. Americanization was important for the reform groups who were scared of their “foreignness”, and families who wanted their children to blend in as American. Immigrant children attended American schools, spoke English, and adopted the American way of life, for example, movies, sports, food, boy scouts, and dancing. One site I liked to learn about Judaism was Shavuot 101: My Jewish Learning. I found this interesting article by Lisa Huriash, “Uncle Sam Keeps Kosher Kitchen for Servicemen Who Need It” HERE.
Another key site for learning about Jewish history in Minneapolis was the Minnesota Historical Society found HERE. Apparently, Minneapolis has a sordid past with racism and anti-Semitism which raised its ugly head yesterday in the papers. The scholarly article “Gentiles Preferred” by Laura Weber was fascinating.

Click to access v52i05p166-182.pdf


Finally, I’ve been watching the Netflix original series Unorthodox about a young lady from Brooklyn’s Jewish Orthodox neighborhood who flees to Berlin. It’s been a revelation. Actress Shira Haas is outstanding as Esther Shapiro. It is a story of non-conformity and insight into Jewish culture–I highly recommend it.

Next month, I will share the research behind Japanese-American soldiers fighting in WW2. It deserves a post all of its own.

Introducing Zorka Kiss

Chapter 2

Zorka Kiss hated her name. How flamboyant the sound when she heard someone pronounce it. Her classmates had teased her by accentuating the Z sound. Add to it the awkward last name with the final drag of the S as though she was a tempestuous snake–suddenly Zorka Kiss sounded obscene. If not a snake trying to seduce, then a secret body part with the capability of kissing. Her mother’s friends were just as bad as her peers. “Give me a Zorka Kiss! Where’s my Zorka Kiss?” When her brother came home to visit, he got in the habit of saying to her, “I need a kiss from the Zorka.” Her parents told her she was named after her father’s grandmother. The family name Kiss was a common Hungarian name, but Zorka knew of no other families in Minneapolis with it. Once she looked up her name in the city phone book. There were two Kiss families, a few Kissingers, and a handful of Kitzingers. It gave her no comfort, but she understood it was not important in light of the times. It was late April, 1942. She was twenty, and the world had gone mad.

She finished her morning classes at the University of Minnesota, and the bus dropped her off at Penn Avenue North. She carried her viola case and walked to her lesson. Her heart was heavy. The war raged, and here she was, far removed from the attacks and imprisonments, pretending all was normal in her daily routine while the apprehensive eyes of her family constantly reminded her all was not well. When they attended the Sabbath, the 400 member community gathered under a shroud of worry. The northside neighborhood exhaled hand-wringing energy that made her stomach cramp and her ears ring.

As she walked down 14th Avenue inhaling the crisp air, Zorka pulled back dense curls the color of burnt toast. She wrapped a scarf around the mass that made her head large compared to her slender frame. Her hazel eyes looked up at the globe veiled behind wispy clouds and concentrated on the tips of the trees that finally sprouted leaves. Spring had won the battle over a long winter even though patches of snow clung to the shady parts of bushes. Zorka admired the yellow and red tulips lining a sidewalk and acknowledged the annual perfection of color and egg shape symmetry with an impulse to wack off their heads. In an ugly world, such beauty seemed rude.

Thanks for reading!

authors, books, crime drama, In My Opinion, photography, Science Fiction, writing

IMO: Cancer & Altered Carbon

My mother has cancer. In typical fashion, the salt-of-the-earth woman is facing stage four lung cancer far better than I am. I have worried and wept since October when her back pain led to an MRI, and she lit up like a Christmas tree. Red dots punctuated her lungs, her spine, and lymph nodes. I have flown to Illinois as often as work allows to assist and be a shoulder to lean on. In the end, it is I who needed consoling. My mother would have been a great Buddhist. Her motto: “It is what it is.” 

I say, “You’re dying.” She says, “I’m living with cancer.” 

Recent rain makes the desert flowers bloom prettily. Watch your step!

I flew to Illinois to be with her last weekend. She is alone which bothers me, but she is exactly where she wants to be, in her townhouse surrounded by her favorite possessions and independent. Her routine has always been simple. Wake up at six and turn the television on for background noise. Walk the dog three times a day. Take a nap after lunch. Watch Jeopardy. Watch the news again. Eat dinner. Watch a Netflix series. Go to bed at nine. Repeat. 

I’m shocked by how therapeutic it is to try on her routine and escape my job, my responsibilities, and my hobbies. Like water lapping on the shore, she is the moon that directs the day’s rhythm. I breathe and begin to relax in her company. We buy ice cream cones and take country drives looking for eagles. We laugh at my inability to adjust to the fancy BMW I rented (I didn’t ask for one; the cheap cars were taken and it was all they could offer me.). Our bodies creak as we try to get in and out of the thing. The speed and smooth ride were like the sprinkles that covered my chocolate cone–a sweet indulgence, indeed.     

To contrast the quiet days, I downloaded Altered Carbon, season one on my phone since I heard it was great, and I like Science Fiction. Each night under my covers after Mom went to bed, I watched a couple of episodes and was impressed with the Blade Runner vibe, sophisticated worlds, and plot twists. My favorite character is Poe, who is AI and wants to be human. He provides the comic relief and is more human than anyone else in the grisly, narcissistic world of the haves and the have-nots. It is violent and for mature audiences. I’d like to read the trilogy by Richard K. Morgan for which Netflix developed the television series in 2018.  

According to Forbes contributor, Paul Tassi, season two is less exciting due to budget cuts. Who knows about season three. You can read his article about season two HERE.  All I can say is season one was highly distracting from the solemn situation facing my family. It sure beats listening to the news and panicking over the Corona Virus.  I have plunged deep into creating the rough draft of my third book in a six-part series. It takes place in World War II and two major characters are Jewish sisters who find themselves in the Philippines, 1942. It’s a safe spot to be, writing about the 20th Century while watching the futuristic setting of the twenty-fifth century.

At the end of the month, the April newsletter will be sent to those who have shared their email addresses with me. You are encouraged to join them. I’ll be sharing the research and the process of writing historical fiction. E-mail me at cbruchman@yahoo.com, and I’ll add you to the list.

Love & Friendship,

Cindy