With 4th of July a week from today, I am remembering all the research I did on WWII and Vietnam while writing my first book three years ago. I was amazed at what I didn’t know. History text books tell us so little. I read personal accounts of pilots who lived through those horrendous air campaigns. Many scenes in my WWII story are taken from those memories shared by the men who lived them. I was alive and protesting during the Vietnam War. Lived on an army base in Oklahoma for two years and waited and prayed for pilot friends to return. I thought I knew a lot until two years ago when I watched videos and read versions I’d either ignored or knew nothing about.
What do I know of taking another man’s life, standing rifle to rifle against the enemy, washing up on a shore as you watch hundreds of your friends dying in front of you? What do I know of carrying back the dead and injured? What do I know about flying high over your target, British spitfires flying alongside for protection?
I know nothing – that’s what I know. Two years ago I went to Normandy and the Caen Memorial Center. During the tour you walk from lightness into dark and you gradually descend — the design meant to increase your awareness of the beginning of Hitler’s siege, through the French resistance to the American landings. You become more and more emotional with each step down and through. By the end, we were all visibly distraught. As a reprieve we wandered into the gift shop and back to real life. Low and behold as I rounded a corner I saw a display of items with my dad’s last name. Poole. I bought a ration book and felt my dad leading me through this experience.
We visited four beaches, walked through German bunkers, and looked out to sea. Visualized men leaping from boats under fire, dying one after another until the last group could manage to reach land. And that one day was only a piece of the war. My dad was not on the beaches. He served further into the forested German countryside. Watching them lower the American flag while they played taps at the American Cemetery topped off an emotional gut wrenching day.
In my book, I describe a young man who accidentally kills an innocent child on a weekend leave where he believes he has escaped the horrors of the war in Cambodia. And a young father returning from war who, like my own father, comes home to a life of nightmares. I hope these stories ring true.
To those young men who have fought in war after war, battle after battle, we salute you on this 4th of July as we did on Memorial Day. It doesn’t matter how many “days” we put aside, we’ll never really understand the horrors they lived through and the many who continue in their war-hell even today.