1940s, books, culture, historical fiction, history, Research, writing

(3) Writing Historical fiction: Jack W. Schwartz, Medicine and Jungle Fauna

Pacific Jungle

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.

Book Three, set in 1942, features two Jewish sisters on the Bataan peninsula in World War II. Barbara Kiss is a nurse and becomes a POW. Zorka Kiss assists “High Pockets” a real spy and smuggler of medicine and food to POWs. Her name was Claire Phillips, and she’s fascinating. If you liked the character Kay from the second novel, she returns and plays an active role as one of the famed “Angles of Bataan”. After much deliberation, I’ve decided to give the third novel a simple title. The working title is “The Lost Sisters of Bataan”.

Research Report

Did you know there were two officers named Jack William Schwartz who were P.O.W.s in WW2?

Jack William Schwartz joined the U.S. Navy’s Civil Engineer Corps in 1940 as a Lieutenant, junior grade. He was transferred to Guam in January of 1941. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he was captured and became one of the first U.S. Prisoners of War, held in various camps until 1945. I found his obituary and video. He lived to be 103 and passed away in 2018. You can read about Mr. Schwartz HERE.

There is another Jack William Schwartz, whose affidavit after the war has been used in various books and articles because it is a primary document. I will be using his facts and details when I create “The Lost Sisters of Bataan”. The following is an excerpt from his report. You can read the whole document found here:  http://www.mansell.com/pow_resources/camplists/philippines/Cabanatuan/schwarz_jack_l_affidavit.html

“At the time of my capture by the Japanese forces in the Philippine Islands, I was the Chief of Surgical Service, Bataan General Hospital #2. My rank at that time was Lieutenant Colonel, having received that promotion on 19 December 1941. I was captured at Bataan General Hospital #2, which is situated 1 kilometer north of Cabcaban, on 9 April 1942.”

It is a grueling, exhausting report, and instills respect and admiration. Jack William Schwartz will play an active role as a hero in the novel.

What do surgeons and nurses do?

A valuable site I found was the U.S. Army Medical Department Office of Medical History. It contains reports and testimonies about the resuscitation, control of pain, and anesthesia of patients in World War II. It’s the details contained therein that allow me to incorporate the actions of the fictional staff in the novel. The jargon, the cases. The amounts of medicine issued, etcetera. This is invaluable to me since I’m not a nurse or a surgeon. How they operated and the medicine they used is different in 1942. When writing historical fiction, one primary goal is to be authentic. Getting ahold of primary documents to recreate the past is paramount. You can explore the site found here: https://history.amedd.army.mil/index.html

What’s it like to be in the Bataan jungle? 

Describing the setting of a place on the other side of the world where Hospital no. 2 was located poses an obvious challenge. I’ve never been to the Philippines, so how do I describe it? I had to do some research. Another primary goal for me is to create a historical climate–that means using the five senses of the setting.

Ylang-ylang tree smells like Chanel No. 5

I found a random site that had great photos and descriptions of the kinds of trees found in the Philippines. Great names I had never heard of like the ylang-ylang tree (Cananga odorata). Its scent is said to be the major ingredient for the perfume Chanel No. 5.

Neem tree

The Neem tree (Azadirachta indica) has the proprieties that keep mosquitos away. That knowledge is going into the novel as many Filipino citizens worked at Hospital No. 2, and I presume they would know that. It is the same for the foods found in the jungle such as the papaya. The medicinal plants found in the jungle can be used in the story when supplies run low at the jungle hospital.

This is the fun part of creating historical fiction. Blending facts with fiction.

Thanks for reading this month’s research report. Next month will be about Barbara Kiss’s little sister Zorka. How does she get from Minneapolis to Manila Bay and become a spy? Stay tuned.

1940s, historical fiction, history, Research, writing

(2) Writing historical fiction: What’s in a name?

In book three, with a possible working title “The White Flash Made By Little Boy,” the year is 1942 and the setting is the Philippine jungle on the Bataan Penninsula. The principal character in Chapter 1 is Barbara Kiss. You met her before found HERE. What have I been researching? How does one create a historical climate?


Naturally, books are what I grab first to catch up on general knowledge of events. I picked Pure Grit by Mary Cronk Farrell whose non-fiction account is well researched and an easy read. I didn’t know much about the nurses who were forced to evacuate Sternberg General Hospital, Manila, into the jungle after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese pressed. By the end of December, Hospital No. 1 was forced to retreat into the jungle. The Japanese pressed some more. The Army decided to send bulldozers deeper into the jungle ten miles by the Real River. Hospital No. 2 was created. It resembled an ant farm of interconnecting rooms that served as wards. It was open-aired, and the walls were vines while the roof was trees. Under the Acadia branches, the hospital hid from a Japanese attack from the sky. Initially, it was a convalescent hospital, but became a surgical hospital, too.

World War II sites abound. My buddy and WW2 expert, GP,  was kind enough to relay applicable links for personal testimonies.  The most informative site, thus far, is the WW2 Medical Research Center. I can read unit histories, articles, testimonies, and inspect the database. Check out their site at WW2 US Medical Research. Why would I do that? I’m not a nurse from 1942. I haven’t a clue how they treated the wounded. What did nurses wear in the jungle? Malaria was a huge problem. What were the symptoms and what was it like for the nurses and patients who suffered? Testimonies are vital for the details that help me recreate a time period. For example, monkeys, iguanas, caribou, rats, spiders, snakes, and the omnipresent flies and mosquitos made it extremely difficult to ignore while administering aid or to sleep at night. Now add strafing, half rations, capture, and enduring time in a POW camp. The nurses lost a third of their body weight from starvation before rescue in February 1945. Pictures provide clues for the answers to my questions and allow me to accurately describe the past. 

The Filipino medical staff and civilians 

The Filipinos helped the US Army by providing civilians to build Hospital No. 2. Filipino nurses and doctors worked alongside American nurses and doctors. If I’m attempting to create the past, I need to know something about Filipino culture, including their names. As it happens, I have a high school student whose father is Filipino. Great! I asked her to investigate and create a list of her ancestors who lived in the Philippines during the WW2 era. That was helpful. In short, asking people to share their personal histories is paramount in looking for the similarities soldiers and medical staff experienced. It’s not surprising that veterans worried, cried, laughed, and leaned on each other to get through the catastrophe. The number one reaction of being in a nurse under attack? Most said there was no time to be scared. There were too many patients to take care of.

NARA (National Archives and Records Association, Washington DC)

Here’s where the fun is. It’s detective work. The primary documents tell a story and reveal a truth whereas recollections over the decades can be selective. I found daily reports, rosters and hospital records, 1941-42. https://catalog.archives.gov/id/16837727

The records show me the numbers, the names and rank of personnel–both Filipino and U.S. doctors and nurses. Supply lists show me what they had and what they needed. This helps me “see” the hospital. For example, at its height, Hospital No. 2 had over 2,000 patients. I didn’t conceptualize the jungle hospital was that large and/or crowded. The facts shape my descriptions.

Writing historical fiction is about asking questions and finding clues to the answers. Everything requires research when you describe a setting and create believable characters across the world. For book two, Inside the Gold Plated Pistol, the setting is outside my front door. I live and breathe the history of Clarkdale, Arizona. But the Philipines in 1942? I know very little. It’s more of a challenge, but I enjoy the process of envisioning the past. During this month of Coronavirus, I have been allowed to research and write at home. It’s my silver lining. Do you have any personal stories about nurses or about Bataan? I’d love to hear what you have to say. I will be back at the end of April to share more.

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,