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

(5) Writing Historical Fiction: In WW2, she was the spy known as High Pockets

Welcome to a monthly post about the research for the third novel, “The Lost Sisters of Bataan.” This project features underrepresented voices of the 20th Century, U.S. History. 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.

There’s nothing more humbling than to discover a person so remarkable, the chagrin felt for never having heard of her or him causes me to wonder aloud, “What the hell? I thought I knew a fair amount of history. Why have I never heard of Claire Phillips?”

During background research of “The Lost Sisters of Bataan”, I stumbled upon “High Pockets” while learning about the March of Bataan and the Japanese Imperial Army invasion in 1942 of Manila. There was a small blurb about her in Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides; I was intrigued. I bought a copy of her memoir, Agent High Pockets, written in 1947. It was a compelling read. I will try to provide a synopsis that won’t spoil her story.

Photo by Esquire. Claire receiving recognition for her war efforts.

She was raised in Portland and ran away from home to join the circus. She had a baby out of wedlock and ended up in Manila. As a single parent, she performed in a nightclub and attracted the love of her life, Sgt. John Phillips. They married at Christmas, 1941. When he was captured and became a P.O.W, Claire refused to evacuate the Philippines and lived in the jungle with her daughter. She survived with the help of local Filipinos and American soldiers dispersed at random. One was Boone, a soldier who took the initiative and consolidated the soldiers into a rebel task force. Claire helped him acquire a radio set that was sent into the jungle hills in pieces to avoid detection. During the occupation, Claire passed herself off as Italian because she tanned herself to a darker shade and possessed the right papers. She participated in a spy ring and gathered up enough money to establish the Tsubaki Club in October 1942. She served Japanese officers whose ships refueled in Manila. She got them drunk and then pumped information out of them. She wrote their sensitive information down on paper and stuffed them in her bra–hence the name “High Pockets”. A runner took the messages to Boone who transmitted the intel to U.S. high command. Meanwhile, she utilized various ways to send money, food, clothes, and medicine to the poor souls who managed to survive the Bataan Death March and left to rot in the camps. She was one of the Angels of Bataan. There’s much more to the story–I highly recommend reading her own account.

Writing historical fiction is great when one can find a fascinating aspect of the past. Claire Phillips is so interesting–surviving the jungle with the Filipinos is a story unto itself. How she sets up and carries out operations as the Mata Hara of Manila is unique. How she survives torture, starvation, malnutrition, and malaria — I marvel at her stamina. Truly courageous, it was a joy to learn about her in her own words. My fictional sister Zorka will wind up in Manila and become a part of Claire’s operation.

Professor Theresa Kaminski‘s nonfiction contribution, Angels of the Underground, verifies Claire’s story and adds other stories by female spies including Peggy Doolin, Gladys Savary, and Yay Panlilio. I am in the middle of the book. It’s inspiring.

That’s what makes World War II fascinating. Not the hate or destruction or insanity, but the ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances who discover the hero within. Have you heard of Claire Phillips? I haven’t seen the movie version of her life. Claire served as a consultant and approved of the way she was portrayed by actress Ann Dvorak in I was an American Spy (1951). 

Phillips was a guest on an episode of the television series This Is Your Life that aired March 15, 1950. Upon the recommendation of General Douglas MacArthur, she received the Medal of Freedom in 1951. She died of meningitis in 1960 at the age of 52.

She made her life count. I wish I could have met her.

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

history, Newsletter, writing

Cindy’s Newsletter

The process of writing historical fiction is a fun undertaking. Share the experience with me. My goal is to send each email subscriber a monthly newsletter that focuses on the research of creating novel three including trivia surrounding World War 2. 

I invite you to click the link below. Join the ranks that will receive the monthly newsletter. Please email me; I will add you to the list. 

Click the link >>  Cindy’s Newsletter March 2020 

You’ve permission to come aboard.

Email me here:  cbruchman@yahoo.com