1940s, historical fiction, history, World War II, writing

(8) Creating Historical Fiction: Malinta Tunnel, Corregidor Island, Philippines

Forgive me, it’s not Corregidor Island, but my shot is an island in the Pacific. Can we agree the sunsets are similar?

For my blogging buddies who study WWII, and for those who enjoy how historical fiction is created, here is an update on Chapter 5 of “The Lost Sisters of Bataan.”

Barbara Kiss and her nursing mates evacuated the jungle hospital in Bataan and find themselves at Malinta Tunnel on Corregidor Island. Reading memoirs is the best way to incorporate the details of an event to create the historical climate. The vernacular. The incidents. A day in the life. The tragedy.

Differing accounts experience similar events but from a different place on the island. A Navy officer tells his story on a ship. Another account is from the standpoint of a pilot. One is a Marine in a gunpit defending the southern shore at Monkey Point. Nursing accounts in the tunnel are priceless.

Next, factor the research from scholars, historical foundations, sites, specialty groups, and documentaries which have an important say about war in the Philippines. My head fills up.

Interested in the facts at Corregidor? Roger Mansell, Palo Alto, CA site titled “Center For Research Allied POWS Under the Japanese” is a great compilation of primary sources: http://www.mansell.com/pow_resources/camplists/philippines/pows_in_pi-OPMG_report.html#Malinta_Tunnel_Hospital_Group

How about a virtual field trip to Corregidor Island? I liked the site “Battery Way” created by John Moffitt.

https://corregidor.org/fieldnotes/htm/fots2-100523-2.htm Battery Way John Moffitt “Rediscovering Corregidor”

Finally, avoid “fact dumping” by describing the facts without plagerizing and integrating the facts into the adventures of the fictional characters.

The result? Historical fiction is an echo of the past.

Here is an excerpt from Chapter 5:


April 9, 1942 

Six nurses huddled close, unable to see. Barbara crouched in the inky night waiting at the jungle periphery of Mariveles Harbor for a boat to transport them to Corregidor Island. To deprive the enemy, dynamite explosions rumbled and fire flashes announced U.S. efforts to demolish weapons and ammunition. She looked at her wristwatch and tilted the face until a flare illuminated it was 0330. During the intervals between detonations, the darkness was like a dense fog that insulated them from the demolition of war. Only their voices were heard.  

“Where’s our boat? It was supposed to be here at 0200.”

“Be patient. It will come.”

“I wish it were daylight. All I see in this blackness are faces. Our patients. We left them.”

“How could we?” 

“What were we supposed to do? We followed orders. We did our best.”

“I see the scared faces of the villagers who begged for a ride out of the jungle.” 

“What of the soldiers waiting for surgery?” 

“Where will the Japs take them?” 

The patter of small arms fire nearby interrupted their talk. A jeep arrived at the docks. Barbara breathed a sigh of relief when a flash illuminated Captains Roland, Fox, and Lt. Nesbit. Where was Lt. Colonel Schwartz? Someone whistled at the officers. In the jungle ferns, Barbara sat on a log with Cleopatra Dulay who shivered with chills. Yesterday the Sergeant had mild symptoms, but now Malaria fever throttled her. Barbara blindly stretched out her hand and aimed for Cleopatra’s forehead. She was burning up. The only idea Barbara could think to do was distract Cleopatra from her uncomfortable situation. Curiosity prompted her. “How old are you, Dulay?”

Barbara heard teeth chattering. Cleopatra answered, “I am thirty.” 

“You look–”

“I know. I’m so tiny people assume I’m a girl.” She wrapped her arms around herself and clenched her jaw to keep her teeth from clacking when she talked. “My mother wanted me to marry and have children. My aunts and sister had problems delivering babies due to our size.” She started to wheeze. “That’s not for me.” It took time for her to regulate her breathing. “I enlisted in the Filipino Army when I was eighteen. It was the only way to bypass village life. Join the Army. Send money to the family.”

“You did a fine job as the chief supply clerk. No. 2 ran smoothly because of you, Cleopatra.” 

She tapped Barbara’s hand in thanks. “What will Malinta Tunnel be like?”

“Better than the jungle, surely?” 

The male officers drew closer to the nurses and stood vigilant on the sandy beach. Lt. Nesbit batted away fronds and crawled over buttress roots to get to the pair. “I thought it was your voice I heard. How are you holding up, Sgt. Dulay?” 

“I’m glad you finally found us, Ma’am. What happened?”

“When we got the order to move, in the confusion, some of us had to fend for ourselves and walk. I was one of them. Until I came upon Captains Roland and Fox. Has anyone seen Ethel Thor? I can’t account for her.”


A twinge of worry warbled her voice. “It’s a hodgepodge scramble. I’m sure Thor will catch up.”

“She’s a tough cookie.” 

“A crusty old bird, that one.”   

“I watched her help Capt. Roland with a complicated surgery. Her hands were inside the cavity rearranging the innards of a patient while Paul stitched his aorta.”  

“She’s a lifer.” 

“Not this nurse. As soon as the war is over, I’m going back to Wisconsin to kiss my future husband and watch my children grow up.” 

“Amen to that, Carol.”

“I’m going to live in a big city and eat in cafes every day. I’ll find a nice man who loves books, and we will live together in sin.” 

“Who said that?” 

“What? That was Barbara?”

“I thought you’d be back in your Minneapolis neighborhood, married, and filling up on bagels with lox?” 

“And a chocolate egg cream.” Barbara laughed. “I pledge to order both every day for the rest of my life. But it won’t be in Minneapolis.” 

A hefty explosion silenced their chattering. They had a clear view along the coast of an ammunition dump explosion. The fireworks catapulted upward like white ribbons reaching for the moon. Lt. Nesbit announced, “I’m going to the pier to find a phone and contact headquarters at Corregidor for help. If a boat arrives, nurses, make sure you take it.”  

Lt. Fox told her, “I’ll go with you, Lieutenant.” They scrambled down to the harbor buildings. Soon a Navy seaman waved his flashlight in their direction. He pulled a cord and started the outboard motor attached to the stern of a dinghy.  

Captain Roland said, “Go, girls. He can take the six of you across the bay to Corregidor. We’ll catch the next ride.” 

Barbara, Cleopatra, Laura, Carol, and two Filipino nurses crept with their heads down to the dock. The waning moon kept the waters dark, and their eyes adjusted to shadows. As the boat puttered away from Mariveles Bay, no one said a word. The water was smooth, and Barbara put her finger in the coolness. Laura reached over and yanked on her arm. She pointed. A few yards away the water shifted and rolled. The dorsal fins of several sharks sliced up through the water testing the air. Barbara yelped and put her hand back in her lap.  

Thanks for reading, friends.

P.S. This eighteen minute video is useful for my spatial, mathmatical-logical learners. The technology is excellent. It puts World War II into perspecitve as a human, global event.

The ending is uplifting. Have you seen it?

1940s, books, culture, historical fiction, history, Research, World War II, writing

(7) Creating Historical Fiction: DC-3, Short-snorter, Nisei and Racism

Some of my blogging friends have expressed interest in the inner-workings of creating historical fiction. Or, they love history in general, especially WW2, and wanted to read about the research. These topics might interest you.

In chapter 4, the character Zorka Kiss moves by train and plane to get to the Philippines. With her is Ken Suzuki, a Nisei language student. He’s been assigned to Manzanar to recruit other Nisei to join the Army and become a spy for the U.S. Racism surrounds him from all sides.

To get some idea of what obstacles faced Nisei on the homefront, I read the 1957 memoir by John Okada. After the release of Japanese Americans from internment camps, it was expected they move forward with their lives as though nothing happened. Those men who resisted were known as “no-no boys,” for twice having answered no on a compulsory government survey asking whether they were willing to serve in the U.S. armed forces and to swear allegiance to the United States. 

No-No Boy tells the story of draft resister, Ichiro Yamada, whose refusal to comply with the U.S. government earns him two years in prison and the disapproval of his family and community in Seattle. I highly recommend it. 

Photo by Amber Brierly on Pexels.com


At one point, Zorka prepares to fly from Oahu to Australia to Manila. To describe what that was like, I enjoyed the 2010 Flying article, “DC-3, A Real Man’s Airplane” by female pilot, Martha Lunken who describes, “The truth is that a “real” working DC-3 is a man’s airplane — incredibly grungy inside and out; dripping black stuff; reeking of Mil-5606 hydraulic fluid, engine oil and 100LL; with leaking relief tubes, dead animals and body odors of the unwashed freight dogs who fly it. You’re likely to find tins half-full of tobacco juice, decades-old candy bar wrappers and rusty soda pop cans, sometimes full of cigarette butts, on the cockpit floor.” You can read the article in its entirety here: https://www.flyingmag.com/pilots-places/pilots-adventures-more/dc-3-real-mans-airplane/

Another article in JSTOR gave insight to the planes and conditions after the Japanese Imperial Army took over Manila and the surrounding islands. I had never heard of the “Bamboo Fleet,” but it added to my understanding the chaos of the takeover, the dangers, the heroism of the pilots. Here is a brief excerpt written by John Farrell:

“As with the fighter aircraft, the initial missions of the Bamboo Fleet were comprised mostly of transporting passengers. Between 100 and 120 personnel were evacuated through the Bamboo Fleet. (42) Bradford alone evacuated twenty-two key personnel from Bataan. (43) Some of the more interesting Bamboo Fleet evacuees included a Chinese emissary from Chiang Kai-shek caught on Luzon when the Japanese invasion commenced. (44) Also evacuated on the same flight were two Nisei American spies who had been undercover among the Japanese community in the Philippines gathering intelligence. (45) Had they been taken prisoner, their ethnicity and status as spies would have made them subject to treason in the eyes of the Japanese. Had the Bamboo Fleet not gotten them out, they would have most probably been executed. Most of passengers, however, were fellow pilots. Although fighter pilots served in infantry units while on Bataan, their skills and experience would be needed in cockpits for the future air operations. Some were ferried to airfields in Mindanao to fly up some of the three fighter aircraft shipped in from Australia, but most were being evacuated to Australia to serve in other flying units.

While the fleet flew out passengers, the return trip would usually bring extra food and ammunition to Bataan. As the siege wore on, medical supplies became the more vital cargo, particularly quinine to ward off and treat malaria. By the end of January, most of the troops were infected with malaria parasites. By March 23, 1942, 750 cases of malaria were reported daily. The Bamboo Fleet’s flying in 758,000 quinine tablets helped alleviate the situation, but three million tablets per month were required to prevent the spread of malaria. (46) Despite their efforts, whatever supplies the Bamboo Fleet could fly in was never enough.”

Farrell, John F. “THE BAMBOO FLEET: HOW A RAGTAG AIRLIFT OPERATION SUPPORTED BESIEGED U.S. FORCES IN THE PHILIPPINES IN WORLD WAR II.” Air Power History, vol. 59, no. 2, 2012, pp. 14–23. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/26276176. Accessed 30 Jan. 2021.

Notice Nisei spies were airlifted. A perfect opening for my fictional character Ken Suzuki to be a part of the plot. And, Kay Weese, from book 2 becomes associated with the Bamboo Fleet.

Photo by Signal Corps – US Army, Eleanor Roosevelt signing short-snorters

The Short-snorter

Learning about the short-snorter from the National Museum of the United States Air Force was perfect trivia to include in the scenes where pilot Kay Weese incorporates authenticity to the flying experience. The ultimate goal in writing historical fiction is to place the reader back in time and have them feel with all their senses what it was like to be in the Philippines in 1942. I’m always looking for the little bits that give the fiction a sense of reality.


The souvenir was a way for soldiers sharing an aircraft to obtain as many signatures on a currency bill. When a soldier made it to the base bar, “show me your short-snorter” was the challenge. If you precured one, you did not have to buy a round. Those with the fewest signatures had to buy a drink, too. Even if one wasn’t into drinking games, it was a souvenir along the likes of a passport stamp showcasing all the places a soldier traveled in the world.


Two memoirs helped me understand the fight to survive after the Japanese takeover. One, from a navigator’s perspective (Edgar Whitcomb) and two, from the Navy officer trying to save his crew (John Morrill). Their job specific vocabulary, the flight patterns, the activities of mine sweepers, subs, various ships as they escaped from Corregidor was helpful when I created fictional scenes that felt like 1942.

I have a historical dilemna perhaps you can help me with. Whatever memoir I’m reading, whatever memory I recall growing up of people referring to the Japanese, they were referred with the racial slur, “Jap” or “Nip”. If I were to use the term today, I would be considered a racist. I would never use the term. But if I lived in 1942…

If I am creating a historical fiction, wouldn’t it make sense that my characters would refer to Japanese Imperial Army soldiers as Japs and Nips? I bring this up because in the first novel, my African American character is called the N word and the editor at the time warned me it would offend readers.

If I don’t refer to the Japanese Imperial Army with the ubiquitious slang at the time, I would not be creating the historical climate. After all, it’s history that informs the present society how the past society acted. Historical fiction allows the reader to compare the past with the present. Time is a gauge that helps change the future. To implant present morays to the past, alters the past. That feels very Orwellian to me. What do you think?

Thanks for reading! On to Chapter 5…

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.