Operation Hailstone

While my protagonist, Dr. John Welles, and one of his best friends, Dr. Sam Feldman, joined the Army as civilian doctors to participate in the European Theater, his other best friend, Claude Willoughby, joined the Navy as a pilot to serve in the Pacific Theater.

In my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, Claude and his wife, Patsy, move to California after suffering a personal tragedy.  Patsy spends her days volunteering in a pediatric ward to work through her grief, and Claude obtains a pilot license to keep his mind off their loss.

You’ll find previous research I used to create Claude’s experience in the blog post Straighten Up & Fly Right.  Today’s post is in regards to Claude’s involvement as a World War II Navy pilot flying in the battle for the Caroline Islands.

Japanese troops occupied the Caroline Islands in 1914 during World War I.  After the war, Japan received a League of Nations mandate over them.  However, the League of Nations imposed restrictions on Japan between 1914 and 1933.  During this time, Japan was not able to build up the Caroline Islands for military purposes.  In 1933, Japan’s withdrawal from the League of Nations gave her the freedom to do just that.

Prior to the Pacific War, the atoll of Truk was built as a forward naval base.  It had five airfields, several seaplane and torpedo boat bases, and repair facilities.  During World War II, a radar station was also constructed.  It also served as an anchorage in favor over Ulithi Atoll.

The base at Truk was destroyed in February, 1944, by American airpower in Operation Hailstone, and was cut off for the remainder of the war.  The attack by the United States involved a combination of airstrikes, surface ship actions, and submarine attacks over two days.  The Japanese appeared to be completely taken by surprise.  Operation Hailstone is sometimes called the equivalent to the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Several daylight and nighttime airstrikes against the base at Truk employed fighters, dive bombers, and torpedo aircraft in attacks on Japanese airfields, aircraft, shore installations, and ships in and around the Truk anchorage.  American surface ships and submarines guarded potential exit routes from the island’s anchorage with the purpose of preventing any Japanese ships from escaping.

The Caroline Islands became part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands administered by the United States after the World War II.  The Federated States of Micronesia was formed in 1986 and gained sovereignty over the Caroline Islands.

Plum Lucky

By spring of 1920, twelve year-old Johnny Welles had made up his mind to leave the only home he’d ever known.  As hard as it was to say goodbye to his beloved stepmother, Collie, Johnny was determined to escape the tragedies that marred his childhood.

His three older siblings, Stanley, James, and Eunice, supported Johnny in his decision even though it broke their hearts to see him go.  His Aunt Prudence, who would take over Johnny’s care, was thrilled by his choice to reside with her in Baltimore and even more so with his pronouncement that he wanted to become a doctor.

In the months after his youthful declaration, Johnny spent all of his free time with Doctor and Mrs. Hager.  The Hagers, German immigrants with no children of their own, welcomed Johnny when they discovered his passion for all things medical.  The Hagers, aware of and sensitive to Johnny’s heartbreaks, couldn’t resist the opportunity to share their medical knowledge with the young boy.

Whenever possible, Doc and Mrs. Hager included Johnny in consultations and examinations.  Between patients, the three would pore over medical journals and Mrs. Hager’s pflaumenkuchen (plum cake).  The following recipe is the one I had in mind when I wrote the scene above.  This rich, delicious cake is quick and easy to make.  The beauty of this recipe is that you can substitute any stone fruit for the plums.  Consider peaches, nectarines, or cherries as an alternative.

Little Italian plums are my favorite when making pflaumenkuchen with black plums as a close second.  Italian plums aren’t available in my area until July, so I’ve presented this cake with black plums which are also quite appealing.  If using Italian plums, cut them in half and pit them.  The same goes for cherries.  For large stone fruits, cut them in half, pit them, and cut into slices.

The Gibson household enjoys this cake still slightly warm and served with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Pflaumenkuchen

1 c sugar (I used raw)

½ unsalted butter

2 eggs

1 t vanilla

1 c flour

1 t baking powder

Plums, pitted and halved

2 T sugar (I used raw)

1 t cinnamon

Powdered sugar (optional)

Preheat your oven to 350°.  Grease an 8 X 8 glass baking dish.

Cream the sugar and butter.  Add the eggs and vanilla, and beat well.  Add the flour and baking powder, and mix thoroughly.  The batter with be thick like soft cookie dough.

Spread the batter into the baking dish and level it with a knife or spatula.  Place the halved plums (if using Italian) cut side down in even rows across the surface.  The same applies to cherries.  All other stone fruits should be placed in single-layer rows across the surface.

Combine the two tablespoons of sugar and cinnamon.  Sprinkle the mixture across the top of the cake and plums.  Bake for 50 minutes or until a knife inserted comes out clean.

When cooled, sift powdered sugar over the cake if desired.

Enjoy!

Two Peas in a Pod

two-peas-in-a-podLike most children, Johnny Welles at twelve was rather oblivious to the world of adults going on around him. His life on the farm with his family consisted of happy days in which he lived secure in the knowledge that he was loved. And then his drunken father decided to return.

The devastation John Welles the elder inflicted upon the family would affect all of them for many years but Johnny most of all. Little did he know that help would come from an aunt he barely knew. His father’s sister, Prudence Welles Mayfield, supplied the much needed means of escape that would set Johnny on the course to becoming a doctor.

Prudence arrived at the farm just as Collie was setting dinner on the table. Without waiting for an invitation, she seated herself, dug in to Collie’s excellent cooking, and proposed the plan that would change Johnny’s life. One of the items on the menu was black eyed peas. The following recipe is the one I had in mind when I wrote the above-mentioned scene.

Black Eyed Peas

1 lb. dried black eyed peas

2 T unsalted butter

6 – 8 oz. pork shoulder, diced into 1/2-inch cubes

6 strips thick sliced bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 medium onion, diced

5 garlic cloves, pressed

1 1/2 t salt

1 t freshly cracked black pepper (I used quad-colored peppercorns)

1/2 t crushed red pepper

6 cups chicken broth (I prefer low-sodium, low-fat broth)

2 bay leaves

Place the dried peas in a colander and swirl around to remove any loose shells or debris. Be sure to sift through with your fingers to remove larger unwanted particles. Place the peas in a large pot and cover with four inches of water. Soak them overnight, then drain the water and rinse the peas in a colander.

(Quick Soak: Sift the peas for debris, bring them and the water to a boil, cook for two minutes. Remove from heat, cover and soak for one hour. Drain and rinse. They are ready to use.)

Rinse and wipe the pot the peas were in then melt the butter. Add the pork shoulder to the pot and brown on all sides until there is a nice sear on the meat and brown bits formed on the bottom of the pot. Add the bacon, onion, and garlic, and cook until the onion has browned, almost caramelized. Be sure to scrape the browned tidbits off the bottom as it cooks.

Add the seasonings to the pot, being sure to coat the meat and onion evenly, and cook for about two minutes. Add the six cups of chicken stock and bay leaves. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for about thirty minutes. When the pork becomes tender, add the peas to the pot and simmer until they are very soft, about 1 – 1 ½ hours. When the peas are finished cooking, you can purée one cup of peas and broth and return to the pot if you desire an even creamier consistency.

When finished cooking, remove the bay leaves and transfer the peas to a serving bowl. Vinegar, especially the hot-pepper variety, is often a condiment for this dish. There are also many stir-ins that people add based on the version of black eyed peas they grew up with. Consider a stalk of celery, a chopped red or green pepper, or corn during the cooking process. Some recipes even call for cooking with the bone from the pork shoulder.  Remember to remove it prior to serving.

Enjoy!

Being Strong for Melinda

trial-or-tribulationSharon and Robert have spent many dark and lonely hours, separated from each other, asking for the things they believed were right and good. Too many times they listened to doctors whose explanations left them staring and openmouthed, their minds weighted down with things they struggled to comprehend.

Endless dashes to the hospital turned into a permanent stay for their only child. She looks like a little caterpillar cocooned in blankets, bandages, and wires from a host of monitors. Robert calls her his baby bug waiting to emerge with new wings.

Prayer requests make the round on social media. Praise reports are given when their daughter rallies. Many drop off when her condition lags. The weak and faithless have no explanation for this decline. They cannot explain why they couldn’t get Melinda healed, make excuses for God as if He needed them. All of it wears on Sharon and Robert until they pray for release for their beloved child because that must be what God wants for her, right?

With heavy hearts, tears amassing in their eyes, they claim they are willing to accept this for their baby girl. Each buries a duplicitous heart beneath stoic faces and solemn nods of the head. They just want to quit, for this to be over. They never speak of it anymore. In fact, they’ve stopped talking to each other at all. The constant company of the Women’s Bible Study Group and Men’s Fellowship doesn’t allow for much private conversation between them. Such good people, these men and women, who stay with Sharon and Robert 24/7, praying audibly non-stop.

Sharon slips away to the ladies’ room. She does not turn on the light, locks the door. The sound of breathing in the dark room scares her for a second, but whatever harm might be done to her by the owner of the breathing is preferable to what is going on with Melinda. Especially if it ends her.

“Sharon?”

She jumps and laughs wildly.

“Robert? What on earth are you doing in the ladies’ room?”

“It’s the only place the guys from church wouldn’t think to look for me.”

More deranged laughter, shared, from the emotionally and physically drained parents. Robert sighs but does not reach for his wife. Neither move to turn on the light.

“I’m so tired, Shar.”

“You, too?”

Robert’s voice dips and rises uncontrollably.

“I just want this…I just want…”

“I know, dear. Me, too.”

Their hands meet in the darkness, instinct guiding their palms and fingers into place. But they do not draw closer to each other.

“I want to quit, Shar. No—I have to quit. I’m done. I’m finished, and I got nothing left.” He pauses to draw a deep breath. “I was in here working up the nerve to tell you.”

“Rob, that’s why I came in here.”

“Why didn’t you say something?”

“When, Robert? Between entertaining and performing for the people from church—God knows I love them, but I really just need them to go home—to holding in my emotions every time the doctors tell us Melinda isn’t progressing as they’d hoped? You won’t even meet my eyes anymore.”

“I know. I’m sorry. But I was afraid if I looked at you, you’d see how scared I am—”

“—I’m scared, too—”

“—but I don’t have any answers for you, Shar. You know, I’m supposed to be the strong one and all that.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, honey. I never expected solutions to this. Not from you, anyhow.”

“Well, that’s a relief.”

“Is it? Because we’re off the hook, but I suspect we wanted our prayers answered in a specific way we’re too afraid to admit.”

“Can I turn on the light?”

Robert flips the switch before she consents setting off a round of watery-eyed blinking.

“Well, that’s better,” he jokes.

They step closer and melt into an embrace. Sharon cries against his shoulder as he runs his hand over her hair.

“I’m not really okay with losing Melinda,” his wife says.

“I know.”

“I feel so guilty for saying that. Like I’m less of a…”

“I understand, Shar. Really, I do.”

“So, now what?”

“Now we quit pretending. We’ve got to.”

“Agreed.”

“And if Melinda…if she…”

“Dies.”

“Yes, if…then we’ll figure it out together. Just the two of us.”

“But it doesn’t have to be just you and me, Rob.”

“I know. I meant all the church crowd.”

“They mean well—and quite a few have been helpful. Sincere.”

“That’s true. But when this is over, whatever over may be, it’s just you and me, and you and God, and me and God to work through this.”

It’s Sharon’s turn to sigh.

“Is this where we were supposed to be all along, Rob?”

“You mean if we hadn’t let all the hoopla get in our way?”

“Yes,” she chuckles. “Just trusting. Shutting up and trusting that God’s got this under control.”

“That’s a hard and scary place to be.”

Sharon nods and leans her forehead against Robert’s.

“I can’t promise I won’t be sad,” he whispers.

“You wouldn’t be human if you weren’t. Just don’t be afraid.”

“I’ll try, Shar. For you.”

“No, babe. For you.”

All the prayers they cannot speak radiate between them. A knock on the restroom door precedes, “Sharon—come quick. The doctors have been looking all over for you. Sharon?”

Melinda’s parents, raw and exposed, striped down to the soul, brace each other with hands to the shoulders.

“I don’t know where they are,” says the muffled voice on the other side of the door.

“Well we have to find them now. They need to know Melinda has opened her eyes and asked for them,” a male voice joins in.

Gasps of shock from the people on the outside are lost in bursts of laughter and tears of relief from Robert and Sharon within.

The Secret in the Sauce

The Secret in the SauceGarland Griffin is an intelligent, beautiful young woman with a secret that’s going to change the course of John Welles’s life. When Garland and John first meet at the University of Maryland, where both are pursuing studies to become doctors, the pair develops an instant rivalry over grades. A chance encounter at a speakeasy leaves the duo unsure of where they stand with each other, but it is the unwelcome growing attraction they feel that catches both off their guard.

Over a tulip sundae at the soda shop, Garland observes John and his two best friends, Sam and Claude, and comes to the decision that although she’s experiencing feelings for her fellow student, what she needs is John’s presence in her life as cover for her dark secret.

The following recipe for hot fudge sauce is the one I had in mind when I wrote the above-mentioned scene. There are other delicious toppings I could have chosen for Garland, but she needed a selection as dark and sultry as herself.

Hot Fudge Sauce

⅔ c heavy cream

½ c light corn syrup

⅓ c dark brown sugar

¼ c Dutch-processed cocoa powder

¼ t sea salt

¾ c bittersweet chocolate (chopped and divided in half if using blocks. I used Ghirardelli chips.)

2 T unsalted butter

2 t vanilla

Bring the heavy cream, light corn syrup, dark brown sugar, cocoa, salt, and half the bittersweet chocolate to a boil in a saucepan over a medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to low to maintain a simmer. Bubbles should rise slowly to the surface. Stir occasionally to keep from scorching the sauce. Cook for five minutes.

Remove from the heat and add the remaining chocolate, butter, and vanilla. Stir until smooth. Cool in the saucepan or a shallow dish for 20 to 30 minutes before transferring to an airtight container for storage in the refrigerator. The sauce will last for two weeks. Reheat in a saucepan on the stove over low heat or in the microwave for 30 second increments until it is pourable but thick.

Enjoy!

Equine Medicine

Equine MedicineEveryone knows what big babies men are about illness.   One little sniffle and they’re down for the count. Then it’s, “Sweetie, could you bring me some hot tea with honey,” and “Honey, how about some chicken soup?” Next thing you know, your big baby is asking for tissues, Tylenol, NyQuil, cough drops, the heating pad, extra blankets, Vicks, etc., etc.

I’ve fluffed pillows for my own big baby, laid cool clothes across his forehead, run for warm socks and Theraflu in the middle of the night when he woke up with chills. I’ve administered B-12, zinc drops, vitamin C, and Echinacea. And one time, I even held his hand and shot nasal spray up his nose because he has this thing about his nose. He can barely stand for the doctor to touch it. It’s quite hilarious.

Anyhow, during a routine checkup for my big baby, the doctor asked if he wanted a flu shot. Now my baby knows how bad flu can be for someone who has dealt with asthma all his life. You don’t want flu on top of that. So naturally, he accepted the shot.

I asked him how his doctor visit went when he came home. He told me that all was well and that he got a flu shot. I snorted because I am the exact opposite of my big baby when it comes to health.  I am not cautious, I put off going to the doctor as long as possible and usually only go kicking and screaming, I would die in my own bed before admitting that I was sick, I only do shots if they’re in glasses, and I think doctors see you coming with dollar signs dancing before their eyes.

So, I had to rag on him just a titch about the shot.

“Boy, did they see you coming. You go in for one reason and they score big bucks getting you to take a shot.”

“Well, this way I won’t get flu.”

“Do you know how many people get the flu anyhow? And they probably wouldn’t have if they hadn’t taken the stupid shot. You’ll be sorry.”

Now this may sound harsh, but we’ve teased each other quite wickedly for over twenty years of marriage. We totally get each other’s sense of humor. Besides, a few months later, big baby had his revenge. I developed the longest lasting case of flu I have ever had. And no, I hadn’t taken the shot.

Weeks after my doctor somewhat proudly announced that I had flu (I suspect he felt bitter yet superior over my stubbornness), I was still suffering under the effects of the illness. I couldn’t regain my energy which left me listless and not a little crabby.

One day, while complaining about how long it had been since I felt well, big baby reminded me that I hadn’t taken the flu shot. He even suggested that I probably should have and said something like who’s sorry now. Well, of all the gall! Can you believe he’d kick me when I was down? I summoned what little energy I could to retaliate.

“Yeah, well, you’re like an old draft horse, you know?”

“What do you mean?”

“They lead you where they want you to go, and you comply. Just strap on a bag of oats and ole Willy will take the shot. I, on the other hand, am a thoroughbred.”

“Yeah! High-strung, stubborn, and unpredictable!”

(Long, long pause for shared laughter. Still laughing. Still laughing. Finally, we’re winding down.)

“Okay, I’ll own that one.”

So while I still refuse to get the flu shot every year, at least I know big baby will care for his stubborn pony.

And If I Perish

And If I PerishAnd If I Perish was recommended to me by the nurse re-enactors of the Conneaut D-day event as a source of information on American medical staff during World War II. I needed to place my protagonist, Dr. John Welles, in the European Theater as a surgeon, but I truly had no idea how to incorporate a civilian doctor among the ranks of military personnel.

Thanks to Evelyn Monahan and Rosemary Neidel-Greenlee’s thoroughly researched book, I not only had a way to place Dr. Welles in the war, I had firsthand accounts via actual medical staff of what he would have encountered.

And If I Perish is a treasure trove of information not to be missed. I highly recommend it to students of nursing and history. While the contribution of doctors is also noted, the focus of the book is on the nurses who responded to the call to tend American soldiers fighting in North Africa, Italy, and at the Normandy landings through to the end of the war in Europe.

Often without footwear and uniforms in their sizes, yet an abundance of nylons, lipstick, and face powder supplied by the military, the nurses who participated in World War II made tremendous sacrifices and improvised on the spot to ensure that American and Allied soldiers received the best in medical care. They even gave the best they had to offer when working on German POWS who, with the exception of SS officers, were often grateful for the care they received once they overcame the fear of being captured.

It was no small challenge for the nurses to assist doctors while only a couple of miles from the front lines, often in horrible weather, and sometimes during retreats with the threat of being left behind hanging over their heads. And they did it without the benefit of weaponry to fight back.

The nurses endured bombing, strafing, and even evacuation from a hospital ship that had been attacked by unscrupulous pilots of the Luftwaffe contrary to the Hague Conventions. Occasionally they lost one of their own, a fact that further solidified their sense of family. All this they endured at less pay than their male counterparts.

With the equality that women enjoy today in many fields of work, it is difficult for me to comprehend why, for so many years, the nurses’ stories were overlooked and why they didn’t receive as many promotions and awards as the men serving. Hopefully, Mrs. Monahan and Mrs. Neidel-Greenlee’s book came in time for all of them to know how loved and appreciated they were and are for the sacrifices they made in serving their country.

A Matter of Classes

A Matter of ClassesOne of the jewels in the crown of the research for my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, is a class schedule from the University of Maryland for 1922. I could not have been more pleased with the delivery of this item into my possession than if I had asked what the Queen of England ate for dinner on May 28, 1997, and been told not only what she consumed but how well she like it.

Let this exaggeration serve to convey exactly how pleased I am. When I began my research, I had absolutely no idea how I was going to discover what classes and labs doctors in the 1920s were required to pursue or for how long. I only had my knowledge of modern day medicine to fall back on, and that simply wouldn’t do.

Douglas Skeen, who at the time of my research was employed at the Maryland Department of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, Maryland, and hopefully still is, is responsible for locating the bulletin and sending it to me as a PDF. I sincerely thank Mr. Skeen yet again for performing his role as a Reference Librarian above and beyond my expectations.

I created the Research Road portion of my blog with the express purpose of sharing what I discovered with other writers. I don’t know how many others may need similar information, but I will allow you to stand on my shoulders as you search for it, and I’ll hold your ankles to balance you as you do. With that being said, please enjoy the attached PDF of the Bulletin of the University of Maryland School of Medicine and College of Physicians and Surgeons, Vol. VII, from July 1922. At the very least, I hope you enjoy the walk through history.

UM Bulletin Vol 7 July 1922

Heroes From the Attic by G. Jesse Flynn

Heroes From the AtticOne of my favorite books, and a feather in the cap of my private library, is Heroes From the Attic by G. Jesse Flynn. I first learned about the book while interviewing participants from the Conneaut D-Day Reenactment this past August. Lisa Merzke, who portrayed a nurse, suggested the book because it explained in detail about the creation of the first MASH unit, the 48th Surgical Hospital, which was later reworked into the 128th Evacuation Hospital.

I obtained an excellent copy of the book and was thrilled to discover the author’s signature in the front cover. Although the inscription isn’t addressed to me, I couldn’t have been more pleased that I owned a signed copy.

Mr. Flynn was prompted to write the history of the 48th/128th upon learning about his parent’s involvement with its formation. Through interviews, letters, diaries, and pictures, Mr. Flynn has constructed a thoroughly detailed accounting that answered my specific questions with such precision that at times I believed the book had been written for me.

As well written as the history is, what truly endeared me to this book were the personal accounts of the members of the 48th/128th. Through the letters of Nurse Lt. Margaret Hornback, the diary of Dr. Leonard Schwade, and individual testimonies of various other members, one gets a true sense of what these brave men and women experienced and how they felt about it.  In an event that, God willing, we never allow to be repeated, members of the 48th/128th often learned on the job but never missed a beat, and they set the high standard of quality by which other units were formed and trained.

I am forever grateful to the doctors, nurses, and enlisted men of the 48th/128thfor their selfless sacrifice. I also thank Mr. Flynn for collecting and recording their amazing history so that it will never be forgotten. Their stories and information helped me to accurately place my protagonist in the European Theater of World War II, and I hope they will graciously indulge my boldness in assigning Dr. John Welles to their most successful and exemplary unit.

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