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Friday, September 14, 2012
By Dammit, We're Marines!
Today I have the extreme pleasure of meeting with award-winning author, Gail Chatfield. I met Gail last month at the Veterans‘ Writing Group. At the end of a presentation given by Shirley Clukey (editing) and me (publishing), Gail handed us each an autographed copy of her book, By Dammit, We’re Marines! This book won the Silver Medal Award from the Military Writers Society of America.
I confess I didn’t get too excited about a book on war, until I started reading it and then I was totally hooked! I enjoy the stories, the conversational style of writing by each Marine, the human touch added to a horrible war. I now know more about Iwo Jima than I ever thought possible and the flag raising on Mt. Suribachi will forever be more than just a static photograph.
To give you a feel of the book, here’s one part of one man’s story, as he talks about landing on Iwo Jima. I didn’t hit the beach until 2:30 in the afternoon. It was a very interesting experience going in on the landing craft. We weren’t tense at all, it seemed like everything was just going like it had always gone in training. And then a couple of explosions occurred near the landing craft and everyone realized that by golly somebody is trying to kill us. In all of our training nobody had tried to kill us.
Or this from another Marine: I was lying on the beach and a mortar shell exploded between my legs. It raised me off the deck and exploded, but because of where it landed, the explosion caused the shrapnel to go up and out over my legs. It hit a good friend of mine in the neck. He was bleeding quite a bit so they got him to the aid station on the beach and he was evacuated. His total time on the island was probably about 15 minutes…..Upon reaching the top of the mountain, we joined E and F Companies, E Company brought a small flag, 54 x 28 inches, and they found some 1½ inch iron pipe, secured the flag to it and hoisted it up around 10:30 a.m. The troops below shouted and the ships at sea blew their horns…..I saw them raise the first and the second flags, from about ten feet away. It was a very, very exciting moment, very thrilling, seeing the stars and stripes flying over the piece of land the Japanese owned. We had taken it this far and the feeling was almost indescribable.
Gail, how long have you been writing? I’ve always enjoyed writing but I was not able to devote a lot of time to it until about 10 years ago. I began writing for our local paper and doing freelance stories. Then I got the idea for the book and that really got me writing!
Give a brief synopsis of By Dammit, We're Marines! Culled from interviews with 52 ‘greatest generation’ veterans, the book offers eye-witness accounts of combat on the Pacific Front during World War II. Facing an entrenched, well-equipped enemy, flesh shredding coral reefs, malarial and dengue fever-ridden jungles, mosquito and crocodile-infested swamps and a noxious moonscape sulfur island, these invincible American teenagers destroyed the powerful Japanese war machine. Told in their own words, their recollections offer a foxhole view of ordinary young men in battle—raw and uncensored with all the innocence, fear, loneliness, bravado, humor, death, and patriotism that is the universal human experience of combat. Chaplains, corpsmen, sailors and aviators who served with the Marines also share their personal accounts. I want the readers to feel as if they are sitting there listening to the veterans personally telling their stories to them as they did to me.
What prompted you to write this book? My dad was a Marine in the Pacific but sadly he died when I was 15. He never spoke about his time in service and I never asked. He was in some very important battles like Iwo Jima and I longed to know more about what he would have experienced as a young man in war. I attended a reunion of Iwo Jima veterans at Camp Pendleton and met so many interesting men who told great tales of heroism, horror and the humor that got them through the whole thing. I thought that if I enjoyed the stories, others might as well. As these veterans die, their stories go with them. Most never spoke about it because many were not asked. I can't imagine understanding any battle, war, etc without listening to those who were there. History is painted in broad brushstrokes by generals, presidents, and politicians, but it is the ordinary man (or woman) who paint the small details to tell the complete story.
How long did it take to write the book? A lot longer than I thought it would! I had to search out the veterans, interview them on tape, transcribe their words, edit to make their story flow better, send it back for their approval, make any corrections, and do this some 50 times. I attended reunions in Atlanta and throughout Southern California to meet veterans. All in all I guess it was about two years…..my housework suffered and I lost weight, which was not such a bad thing, I guess.
Do you have a favorite line from the book? One line I find myself using quite a bit comes from a veteran describing what he told his squad when they hit the beaches under heavy bombardment on this hell hole of Iwo Jima. He hollered for them to keep moving so he says: “if you lay on the beach, they are going to kill you; if you move inland, they have a chance to kill you.” You can see how that is a perfect life lesson for charging ahead even under difficult circumstances….. taking a chance is preferable to being dead on a beach, so to speak.
Is it published and, if so, when and by whom? Yes, it was published by Methvin Publishing in November 2008.
How can my readers get a copy of the book? It’s available in hardcover and ebook on Amazon.com barnesandnobel.com and at military related museums.
How long have you been involved in the Veterans' Writing Group? We started the group about two years ago. I had led writing classes at the local VA and heard about the Veterans Writing Workshop put on by Writers Guild Foundation in Los Angeles. I wanted to duplicate it here in San Diego, perhaps giving veterans a chance not only to write but also pursue possible careers in the entertainment industry. The Writers Guild Foundation supports us with great award winning screenwriters, playwrights and novelists who come to San Diego to mentor the group on the fundamentals of great writing.
What’s next for you? I would love to put together a book of stories being written by the veterans in the writing group. We have all branches of service, all wars, all types of writing styles, all types of stories.
What is your advice to would be writers? Three things: buy a thesaurus—you will use it a lot; when you’re limited by word count, make sure the words your choose count; and submit, submit, submit---you need to develop a thick skin sometimes but remember that everyone has an opinion….what one person rejects may just be what another is looking for.
What do you wish you knew when you started your writing career? That the more you write the better you get. …no one cares what draft you are on and that 15th one might just be perfection. It’s true!
Thank you, Gail! I would encourage everyone to order this book and listen to these men tell us what it was like to have mortars flying over their heads, to take salt water showers, or to hit the beach at 9:03 a.m. with 250 officers and men and by 2:00 be down to 75. Most former military men will joke about the fun times they had in the service but they won't talk about the gruesome events they experienced. Read this book, you'll find out what they really went through!
Quote for the Day: Here is a test to find out whether your mission in life is complete. If you're alive, it isn't. Richard Bach