Memorial Day is a time to remember:
In 2000, I got my idea for what came to be my first historical novel, From Dust and Ashes. Wanting to know more about the 23 men who liberated Mauthausen concentration camp, I contacted the 11th Armored Division who put me in touch with six of the veterans. These men then invited me to attend the 59th reunion of their division. I wasn’t expecting that at all. I thought they’d point me to a good research book or allow me to interview them over the phone.I felt SO unworthy to meet with these men. I knew very little about WWII, and I didn’t want my inexperience to show. Not to mention the $1000+ for airfare, hotels, rental car for a book I didn’t have a contract to write.
I urged a friend to go with me, and I’ve been so thankful we went. The men were caring and opened their hearts to me. They shared stories with me that they hadn’t shared with anyone before. They laughed. They cried. They took my hands and thanked me for caring about their story. They hugged me and kissed my cheeks.
When it came to writing my novel, I wasn’t writing about fictional characters. I was writing pieces of Charlie’s story, bits of Arthur’s experiences. The memories that made LeRoy cry made it into my book. The snapshots that Tarmo carried around in his mind for 60 years transformed into scenes in my novel (and the novels to follow!).
I get many letters from readers who say that my novels come to life on the pages–that’s because the men’s experiences came to life to me as I looked into their eyes and saw glimpses of young heroes. Also, the following year I went to Europe and walked the streets of the SS housing with a man who’d been nine-years-old when the camp opened near his home. Again, I “saw” the story in his eyes as he shared–this time from someone on the outside.
There was an added benefit to this diligent research that I didn’t expect. After my second novel Night Song came out I received a letter from a veteran. He made a list of twenty minor research points that I’d gotten right, and then he asked, “One thing I didn’t understand was the faith element of this story. Can you tell me more about your faith in God?”
Because I had done the research, I’d was able to share about my Jesus with a veteran who has since passed away.
The Power of Stories
Although many of the heroes I met have since passed away, their stories live on. LeRoy, who I mentioned above, had told me about opening the gates to the concentration camp at Mauthausen and seeing the masses of thin, skeletal figures. He also told me about an orchestra of prisoners who were playing the Star Spangled Banner for their liberators. Those prisoners survived because they were musicians and the Germans loved music.
That story became the inspiration for my novel Night Song.
A Night Song of Hope
Night Song tells the little-known, but true story of the orchestra started by prisoners in Hitler’s Mauthausen death camp. This courageous orchestra played the American national anthem as Allied troops arrived to liberate the camps.
Around the orchestra story, the fictional stories of a beautiful member of the Austrian resistance, the American GI who loves her, and a young prisoner who fakes his way into the camp orchestra in a desperate attempt to stay alive, are woven together.
Although many have since passed, these stories–and the men who lived them–will forever hold a part of my heart. Their responses to Night Song encouraged me that I had told a story that would help others to know the struggles and strengths of the brave men and women of The Greatest Generation.
“After nearly 60 years, I was transported back to Mauthausen, remembering the days when I delivered the daily ration of bread to the dying. The author has the uncanny knack of recreation, and I found myself remembering everything, including the smell.”
-Charlie White, 11th Armored Division Veteran
“Night Song is filled with many details that are exactly how they were during my military career. Though I am a compulsive reader of WWII, I learned things I did not know!”
-Wilfred “Mac” McCarty, 11th Armored Division Veteran
“Well researched and historically accurate! As a member of D-Troop, 41st Calvary Squadron, 11th Armored Division, whose men liberated Mauthausen, Gusen I and Gusen II Concentration Camps on May 5, 1945, I highly recommend this book.”
You can purchase Night Song here: https://amzn.to/2JqQrbH
If you have a veteran in your life … today is the perfect day to reach out–to listen to his or her story. Don’t let the stories die, when you have a chance to make a difference.
To read some of their stories, click here.
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”