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

(7) Writing Creative 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

DC-3

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.

https://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/Visit/Museum-Exhibits/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/196124/a-useful-souvenir-the-short-snorter/

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.

Racism

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, 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!