Dunkirk – Movie Review

An unusual movie, quite brilliant, and one for which you should probably come prepared, Dunkirk drops the viewer into the middle of action already far underway.  If you don’t know you World War II history, you’re going to spend the rest of the movie trying to figure out what’s going on.  Or perhaps you’ll give up and go with it, but you’ll be cheating yourself on the importance of what is taking place on the screen.  I’ll provide a small clue and tell you it’s a movie about survival and how far an individual and a group will go to achieve it.

The storyline doesn’t follow one particular character through his experiences and struggles during the war and evacuation.  Rather it presents the events taking place from multiple POVs, both military and civilian, thus providing a wonderful angle from which to view the scenes.  With this technique, the viewer is also treated to a variety of reactions about what is occurring.  Again, if you’re not familiar with World War II history, you may be surprised to find this isn’t an action movie with battle scenes like you were possibly expecting.

Dunkirk is an intense fusion of visuals and sounds.  At first I thought the cinematography looked too new, but the clarity of the shots appealed to me long before the movie was over.  When combined with an amazing soundtrack crafted by Hans Zimmer, the experience draws one in mind and body.  I found myself tensing up in my seat to the musical equivalent of the sound of gunfire, the groaning metal of a sinking destroyer, and a dive-bombing plane.

The movie doesn’t downplay the heroism of the men serving in France, but shares the valor with the civilians who rushed to their rescue for the evacuation effort.  And instead of presenting Germany as the soul antagonist, Dunkirk relays the various forces of antagonism that worked against the soldiers and civilians alike.

With a great cast of actors including Kenneth Branagh, James D’Arcy, Cillian Murphy, and Tom Hardy, Dunkirk is not for the casual movie goer.  However, if you’re a World War II history buff or a history buff in general, you’ll leave the theatre feeling like you walked every grueling step with the soldiers, and you’ll be glad you did.

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.

Tell Me, What Were Their Names?

In my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, John and one of his best friends, Sam Feldman, go to war as civilian doctors assigned to the Army.  Their motivation is the attack on Pearl Harbor, an eye-opening event in the lives of many Americans who believed we could stay neutral in regards to the war taking place in Europe and atrocities such as those that occurred during the Rape of Nanking.

For most Americans, World War II started with Congress declaring war after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  However, for other Americans, specifically sailors in the U.S. Navy, it started in the early morning hours of October 31, 1941, with the sinking of the U.S.S. Reuben James by German Submarine U-552.

The Reuben James, a World War I Clemson-class, four-stack destroyer, was part of an escort for convoys bound for Great Britain carrying war materials from the “Arsenal of Democracy.”  German U-boats (submarines) didn’t hesitate to fire on any ship in the convoy, considering them all to be fair game.  For this reason, it was only a matter of time before America became involved in a “shooting war.”

The Reuben James was torpedoed and sunk while escorting convoy HX-156.  The incident resulted in the loss of 115 of the 160 crewman, including all officers.  Although not the first U.S. Navy ship to be torpedoed before the war, the Reuben James was the first one lost.

When news of the sinking reached America, many concerned people wrote letters to the U.S. Navy trying to determine the fate of loved ones and/or friends.  Unfortunately, most of the country ignored the sinking.  One person who did not was folk singer, Woody Guthrie, who wrote “Sinking of the Reuben James” immediately following the incident.

I mentioned the Reuben James in my novel in an effort to remember all who lost their lives during a dark time in history.  Also, in the spirit of one tagline I came across during my research, friends don’t allow friends repeat history.

A Blast From the Past

One of the details I researched for my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, was the weapon used by American soldiers during World War II.  Per my brother, a World War II history buff, the M1 Garand was the gun I needed to look up.

There is so much information on the M1 Garand, simply and affectionately called Garand in honor of its inventor, I didn’t believe I could do it justice by writing my own article.  So, I choose two that I found to be the most interesting, and I’d like to share them with you.

The first, Garand Name Pronunciation: Who’s Right?, is actually somewhat humorous.  There seems to be a longstanding debate on this issue.  It’s probably not the first time a name has been mispronounced by an American, and it certainly won’t be the last.  We do that sometimes, but I’m in agreement with writer Mark Keefe when he says, “… I am not going to tell anyone, especially those that used the rifle in combat, that they were wrong.  Call it what you like, and thank you for your service.”

The second article, The Iconic M1 Garand, details the gun in all its glory.  I’ve had the opportunity to hold an M1 as well as see them employed in the re-enactment of the D-day landings.  It’s an impressive weapon, and I’m glad our soldiers had it to use against a formidable enemy.

Wholesome Homecoming

August of 1945 should have been a time of celebration for Dr. John Welles. The Second World War was over in Europe and swiftly coming to an end in the Pacific. However, John’s homecoming wasn’t what it appeared to be, and the secret surrounding the circumstances were known only to him and his Aunt Prudence. While she was instrumental in helping her nephew make the transition from his experiences as an Army doctor back to civilian life, there was one painful secret of which even Prudence was not aware.

John’s family was seated in the kitchen eating when he arrived. He stood outside the row house and watched from a distance as they ate a simple breakfast that included oatmeal. I chose oatmeal because it is humble and solid just like the Welleses, and this basic breakfast food was representational of the support John’s family would provide during his first, difficult days home.

Long before experts started touting oats for the health benefits, oats have been used as a food source for people and animals. According to one source, only five percent of the oats grown in America are used for human consumption as breakfast food or oat flour. They are believed to be Asiatic in origin and appeared on the scene later than wheat with the earliest uses being for medicinal purposes. Then there is the debate on steel cut versus rolled oats, the explanation on the different types of oats, and the history on the most famous brand I know, Quaker.

The preparation of oats appears on the container, so I’ll focus on the toppings. This is where one has endless possibilities to explore. A favorite at the Gibson household is Zante currents, maple syrup, toasted, chopped pecans, a pat of butter, and cream that has been warmed. Some people keep it as simple as a pinch of salt while others go crazy with chocolate chips and a dollop of peanut butter.

When cooking oats, opt for water over milk as cooking in milk will make for stickier, thicker oatmeal. Save the dairy for a topping. Spices can be added during the cooking process and should be ground; picking out whole cloves and cinnamon sticks afterward is unpleasant. Don’t forget to add a pinch of salt to the water because that’s where seasoning begins.

Bringing the oats and water to a boil together makes for a creamy cereal whereas bringing the water to a boil and then adding the oats results in a chewier meal. I wouldn’t suggest trying this with steel cuts, however, as they are already springy in texture to begin with. Serve oatmeal in a deep bowl to keep it smooth and hot. A shallow dish will cool your breakfast treat too quickly, and you’ll end up with a gluey, unpalatable mess.

If you’ve never enjoyed oats, don’t curl your lip, raise an eyebrow, and pass up oats and oatmeal. They are delicious beyond their nutritional value and neutral appearance. Also, consider them for lunch or dinner, and if you really want to impress, offer them as a side dish to dinner guests with the inclusion of caramelized shallots and uncured turkey bacon or as a dessert made with saffron and cardamom.

“Oats.” Oats. Purdue University – Center for New Crops & Plants Products, Feb. 1999. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.

Walsh, Danielle, and Kimberley Hasselbrink. “9 Ways to Totally Screw Up Your Oatmeal.” Bon Appetit. Bon Appétit, 23 Jan. 2014. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.

**Read Easy Peasy to learn how to quickly generate citations.

Getting Out of a Jam With Marmalade

sweet-solution-4The character of Lucia in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, started out as one of peripheral importance. I created her simply to serve in the role of head cook to John’s Aunt Prudence, but she evolved into someone much more important. Just short of handling finances, it was understood that Lucia ran the household. She also ran Prudence with a style somewhere between a tough love guidance counselor and a wise, older mentor. Lucia also came to John’s rescue in the years following his brief service during World War II. John was unable to deal with the horrors he witnessed and most specifically for the one he caused that he kept secret from those he loved.

One day over a breakfast of popovers and orange marmalade, Lucia suggested that John go on a journey taking him away from his family so he could deal with the ghosts haunting him. John’s Aunt Prudence was heartbroken at the suggestion, but Lucia knew John needed time away to heal his mind and body. Besides, she would still be in Baltimore tending Prudence more as a close friend than as an employee. Prudence would only admit if pressed to say, but her relationship with her feisty cook was exactly how she liked it.

The following recipe is the one I had in mind when I wrote the above-mentioned scene. There are some nice orange marmalades on the market in upscale food shops, but nothing quite compares to the flavor of homemade orange marmalade. Not only will your house smell wonderful while it’s cooking, the taste of homemade orange marmalade on toast, vanilla ice cream, or whole grain pancakes defies any description of deliciousness.

Lucia’s Orange Marmalade

6 large oranges with thin skin

1 lemon

6 c water

8 ¼ c of granulated sugar

Approximately 14 – 6 oz. canning jars, lids, rings

Water bath canner with canning rack

Wash the oranges and lemon using a mushroom brush or another type of soft, clean brush. Cut the oranges into 1/8 inch slices. Remove any seeds. Cut the stacked slices of orange into quarters. Trim any thick pieces of rind into slivers to use. Place the oranges in a large cooking pot. Zest the lemon and juice it. Add the zest and juice to the oranges in the pot along with the water. Bring to a boil over a high heat. Reduce the heat and maintain a bubbling simmer. Stir frequently and cook for forty minutes until the rinds of the oranges are tender enough to cut with a spoon.

sweet-solution-3While the orange/lemon mixture cooks, bring a large pot of water to a boil and place the canning jars in the water. Sterilize the jars by boiling for ten minutes. Turn off the heat and add the lids and rings. Let everything sit until the marmalade is ready. You may need to do this in two separate pots due to the quantity of jars.

After the orange/lemon mixture has cooked for forty minutes, add the sugar and return to a full boil. Stir frequently so the sugar doesn’t burn and the mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot. Boil until the mixture reaches 223° on a candy thermometer. This process should take at least twenty minutes, but depending on your stove and/or cooking pot of choice, it may take longer. Keep a close eye on your thermometer and watch as the mixture darkens, turns glossy, and thickens. Adjust the heat if needed to keep it from boiling over.

To test the readiness of the marmalade, place a saucer in the freezer to chill. A small dollop of the marmalade placed on the chilled plate and allowed to cool should gel and move slightly. Anything runnier and the marmalade isn’t ready. Keep cooking, and watch your thermometer.

When the marmalade is ready, remove the jars from the water and drain on a clean towel. Carefully ladle the marmalade into the jars to just below the threads of the jar. Using a ladle and slotted spoon ensures that you don’t end up with too much peel or too much liquid for the jars at the end. Keep the juice to rind mixture balanced in each jar. Wipe the rims and threads of the jars with a clean, damp cloth and top each with a lid. Add a ring and tighten securely. You may use fewer jars than the recipe called for, but I suggest having fourteen ready just in case.

sweet-solution-2

Cooling Jars of Marmalade

Bring water to a boil in a water bath canner (approximately half full). Using the canning rack, add the jars of marmalade to the boiling water. Add additional hot water to the canner if needed to cover the jars at least one inch. Boil for ten minutes. Carefully remove the rack of jars and set on a clean towel in a cool, dry place to come to room temperature. You should begin to hear the lids pop indicating the jars of marmalade are sealing properly. Do not move for 24 hours. Refrigerate the marmalade once a jar has been opened. Unopened marmalade will last for up to six months.

Enjoy!

sweet-solution

A Soldier’s Story – Omar N. Bradley

a-soldiers-storyA Soldier’s Story by General Omar N. Bradley is one of the most profound books I’ve ever read.  My friend and fellow writer, William Alford, loaned Bradley’s autobiography to me as a source of research for my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles.  My research required a closer look at World War II, such as those provided by doctors and nurses (And If I Perish, Heroes From the Attic), but I still read Bradley’s account of the war, and I am extremely glad I did so.

He prefaces his autobiography with the inscription, “To those soldiers who must often have wondered WHY they were going where they did.  Perhaps this will help answer their questions.”

I believe Bradley answered these questions truthfully and without the ego that might have come from a lesser man achieving such rank and accomplishing what Bradley did.  As for the tough issue regarding loss of life, he explained how every move made by troops was analyzed and not conducted until the loss was the lowest number possible.  The decision to go ahead, shouldered by Bradley and other men like him, was not taken lightly, and it is not one I would ever want to have.

There are many who would argue that the war was unnecessary, but I concur with General Bradley:  the evil that swept through Europe wasn’t going to go away on its own.  Even with the combined forces of the Allies, the battles were not easily fought or won.  Perhaps unavoidable would be the better word choice in regards to World War II.

Bradley was against actions such as taking a site simply for the prestige of location.  Yet when other commanders’ egos swelled, he remained cordial with them even while strongly disagreeing with their decisions and/or actions.  He went so far as to put his career on the line to get the truth out to the American public regarding one such instance.

Further testimony to Bradley’s humility and strength of character are his accounts of his friend, General Patton.  Bradley spoke frankly about the times Patton overstepped his bounds, yet he never criticized in a way that tore Patton down.  When Patton was placed under Bradley’s authority, the two men worked together quite well and held each other in high regard.

Bradley includes comments from Prime Minister Winston Churchill that are chilling predictions come true.  Considering that the conversation took place in 1945 and wasn’t published until 1951, when Churchill says, “There may come a day when we shall walk into a cabinet room, break the glass over a switch, dial to the nation to be bombed, and push a button to declare war,” I can’t help but wonder if this technology was in place long before we were aware.  More unsettling are Churchill’s words, “But we shall never sit by and permit a minority to force its will upon a helpless majority anywhere,” which speak to the current world situation.

The book concludes with the end of the war in Europe, an occasion that was no doubt worthy of celebration, but I was left with a feeling of melancholy that I could only attribute to the realization that the type of patriotism displayed during World War II no longer exists.  Still, I believe that Bradley’s explanations successfully bridged the gap between those in command and those in the field.  I highly recommend A Soldier’s Story as a worthy read.

Who is in Your Details?

God Is In The Details by Mauricio Raffin

God Is In The Details by Mauricio Raffin

Today’s post counts as two entries in The Weight of Words and one for Research Road. It also stresses the importance of thoroughly editing and researching your work as well as finding a good editor. We’ve all made mistakes. I have received tactful comments from followers pointing out errors I’ve made. It’s easy to correct a blog post even after the fact, but what about my novel? I don’t live in fear of discovering an error post publication…oh, wait—I do.

I can’t tell you how many times my mother has said, “What difference does it make if you’re not 100% accurate? The common reader won’t know if you’re right or wrong.” To which I explained that I would know. Then there is the historian or well-read person who may read my novel and nail me for incorrectly portrayed facts. I’m not talking about the creative license we employ when placing our fictional characters in real periods of history or an entire reimagining of historical events such as the Germans winning World War II. I’m talking about modern words and phrases ending up in the mouths of characters from an earlier century and inaccurately portrayed artifacts, architecture, places, etc. due to lazy research.

A book I finished recently had two such errors. The first was the spelling of the word carcase/carcass. About thirty years ago, I read Dorothy L. Sayers’s novel Have His Carcase. It was part of a trio of Sayers’s books gifted to people who made a donation to the local PBS station. The announcer kept mispronouncing carcase the way one would say car case. How embarrassing. Years went by before I stumbled across the spelling carcass, which, by the way, is the only spelling Word recognizes as correct. I assumed it was another instance of American English vs. British English. What I discovered after reading several definitions for both spelling variations, is that carcase is the older, often consider archaic, of the two spellings although both are acceptable. Why is this important? The author of the aforementioned book used the word in the diary of a Carthusian monk from 1535, but she spelled it carcass. As soon as my eyes fell across the word, I was jolted out of the story to ponder whether the mistake was mine or hers. True, most people would have let it go, but for historical accuracy, well, I’ll leave it up to you to decide.

Small sidebar: When I checked writing forums for the correct spelling of carcase/carcass, Dorothy L. Sayers’s novel, Have His Carcase, was referenced at least once on every site as the example for the spelling carcase.

I was much less forgiving toward the second mistake. Another character, also from 1535, mentioned seeing a nine-branched menorah used in the second temple of Israel. Did you catch that? Talk about being shocked right out of the story. All my research on the subject verified what I already knew to be true: menorahs used in the temple of Israel have seven branches. The most reliable source of this information is the Bible. I don’t doubt that the candelabra people see the most and the one with which they are familiar is the nine-branched version known as a chanukkiah used in celebration of Chanukkah. The terms are used interchangeably and incorrectly. However, the two items are absolutely not the same thing.

My thoughts on the subject ranged from disappointment toward the author to wondering if the editor was too young to care about such facts or not interested in verifying them. Several years ago a self-published author gave the advice that you should research your history to the nth degree because your readers will trust that what you have written is true. That advice is what prompted me to research my own novel in minute detail. At one point, I had a fellow author/history buff tracing World War II troop movements to ensure I had placed my protagonist with a unit that had actually ended up in a battle I needed to feature.

Perhaps I sound like a fanatic. Even Andy Weir, author of The Martian, admitted to minor mistakes pointed out by other brilliant scientists, the type of knowledge the common reader wouldn’t possess. There may even be mistakes in my own novel. I sincerely hope someone catches them before it goes to printing. Still, I cannot stress enough that the writing and research of your work in progress begins with you. Beta readers and editors are essential to the process, but there is no excuse for a lazy author.

In closing, I’ll point to the title of this post as my final comment on the importance of using the correct words/phrases and conducting research. You’ve probably heard the devil is in the details and the older, slightly more common phrase, God is in the details. The first means that mistakes are usually made in the small details of a project. Usually it is a caution to pay attention to avoid failure. The second means that attention paid to small things has big rewards, or that details are important. Who is guiding your writing efforts?

Bea’s Diner-Open For Business

In the summer of 1948, Dr. John Welles is the newest resident in Addison-on-Gauley, West Virginia. He’s still reeling from his brief experience during World War II, the effects of which will haunt him for many years, and seeks refuge in the small town tucked away in the Appalachian Mountains. His role as the new doctor provides the perfect camouflage for the emotional scars he carries and allows him to hide behind his mask of professionalism. Only one person in the town can’t be fooled.

Bea's DinerBea Turner, the voluptuous, cigarette smoking diner owner, takes a fancy to John which he returns in kind. They become close during his initial trip into town, an event that makes John the butt of an unexpected joke, and their relationship grows through many hardships and trials. Their love for each other is recognized in town as something akin to marriage. They alone believe they’ve kept their liaison under the radar.

The sassy restauranteur serves John a bacon sandwich and tomato soup for lunch during his first visit. He doesn’t enjoy the meal surrounded by the more gossipy members of the town, but having Bea in his presence eases the awkwardness. The biggest surprise comes at the end of lunch when somehow John gets stuck with the entire check.

Bacon sandwiches are easy to make and don’t require a recipe. Two slices of your favorite bread toasted to your desired darkness, add as many slices of cooked bacon as you prefer, top with lettuce, tomato, and mayo—Viola! Bacon sandwich. I’m sure there are people who choose other condiments, vegetables, dressing, relishes, and those who leave off everything except the bacon. Really, the humble bacon sandwich is a matter of preference.

As for the tomato soup, while the majority of the items on Bea Turner’s menu are homemade, one place she cuts corners is by using good ole Campbell’s Tomato Soup. She is, after all, the only employee in her own restaurant.

I’ll not enter the debate on the sodium levels in canned soups and how Campbell’s added high fructose corn syrup to their soup to appease the American sweet tooth. I’d like to believe that during the summer of 1948, when John visited Bea’s diner, the soup was wholesome and tasty and the can wasn’t lined with bisphenol-A.

As recently as 2012, Campbell’s Tomato Soup still ranked as one of the top ten selling dry grocery items in U.S. grocery markets. It’s fairly healthy, too, for canned, modern industrial food. No fat, no cholesterol, no fake colors or flavors, laced with minerals, iron and Vitamin C. A two-serving can is only 270 calories before adding a bacon sandwich as a side.

There are organic choices on the market now as well as lower-sodium varieties and those made without high fructose corn syrup. Whichever option you choose, remember to add a tasty bacon sandwich, or the traditional grilled cheese, and enjoy your meal.

Pop On Over, Love

IMG_20160607_085149863[1]By June of 1948, Dr. John Welles still hadn’t overcome his experiences during World War II. The haunting memories were more than he bargained for. Further gnawing at his conscience was the fact that his service had been quite brief. The worst part, though, was the secret John brought home from the war.

In his efforts to bury the painful truth of what took place in France, John became increasingly distanced from his family and friends. They were patient and loving in return, waiting for John to open up on his own terms. All except his Aunt Prudence.

Prudence had never been one to sit back and wait for things to happen. She always made her own outcome to her satisfaction, and this was exactly what she intended to do with John. Unfortunately, her well-meaning endeavors didn’t produce the results she had hoped for. She argued with her nephew until John simply shut down. Still, Prudence never backed off where he was concerned.

Into the middle of this family struggle stepped Lucia, Prudence’s sassy cook since the days of John’s boyhood. She knew her employer turned close friend had John’s best interests at heart, but sometimes Prudence’s tactics were too harsh, especially for a man still reeling from the effects of war.

One morning, over a breakfast of popovers, Lucia offered the sage advice that helped John make the first positive decision in his life since returning from Europe. Prudence hated to admit that her cook was right, but she didn’t press the issue.

The following recipe for popovers is the one I had in mind when writing the above-mentioned scene for my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. The recipe has been in my mother’s recipe box since her high school home economics days. Popovers are incredibly simple to make, and they taste delicious fresh from the oven with butter.

Enjoy!

Lucia’s Popovers

1 c all-purpose flour

½ t salt

1 c milk

2 eggs

Preheat the oven to 425° F

Thoroughly butter 5 – 9 custard cups. Mix all ingredients with a beater until smooth. Do not overbeat the batter or the volume will be reduced.

Fill the greased custard cups half full. Bake for 40 minutes. Resist the urge to peak or the popovers may fall. Check after 40 minutes. The popovers should be golden brown.

Serve warm with butter.

%d bloggers like this: