Learn From Your Elders

One of the greatest advantages our generation of writers had over the next generation is that we got to know and talk to people who were intimately involved with a world that was rapidly changing. When I was a child I was told stories by people who had been born before cars, radios, and electricity. I remember stories of World War I and World War II and, of course, Korea and Vietnam. I know a man that was there in Dallas, just across the underpass and heard the shot(s) that killed President John F. Kennedy.

Some of the stories have made it into my books, particularly in  The Bottle Tree , and I know that some more will be in future books.

Just after 9/11, in that October as a matter of fact, I flew with my family to Hawaii where I was to lecture at a conference. Seeing the soldiers in the airports, the tense atmosphere which existed, and then when the plan passed over Pearl Harbor and was descending to land at the Honolulu Airport someone began singing American the Beautiful..those are memories that I have now, that I hope my kids remember, and that we will pass down to future generations.

I also remember visiting the Arizona Memorial on that trip. A visit to the Arizona is an emotional experience at any time, standing above the battleship, seeing the outline below you, and watching as oil and air bubble still float to the top, is a memorable experience.

While we were there we listened to veterans who were at Peal Harbor tell us about what had happened, many of them still with tears in their eyes. I remember one in particular who was working at the museum and was in the hospital when the attack occurred. He told us stories of people he knew who were killed, as well as laying there in the hotel room and watching the USS Nevada ground itself to avoid the possibility of sinking and blocking the channel into the harbor, even though the Captain knew the loss of mobility made him, his ship, and his men, an easier target.

I also remember the number of Japanese tourists who were on the Arizona Memorial with us. My family, and particularly the kids, didn't think there was anything unusual about it, but old wounds are still there. This was demonstrated when an elderly Japanese man said in broken English, "Where is the ship? I can't see it, where is it?"

I saw the head of an older man wearing a veteran's jacket turn around to look at the tourist. After a moment I heard him mumble, just loud enough to be heard "She's right below us, on the bottom, just where you Jap bastards left her."

Leaving aside the racial issues, etc., the emotion in that man's voice and the remark itself clearly demonstrated that he had a story to tell and I can only hope that someone who knows him manages to get that story before he passes.

It is one thing to read about history in the books, and quite another to hear it from someone who remembers.  As writers, it is trying to give history a real voice that is so difficult.