Seventy-one years ago yesterday, the war in Europe ended. It seemed a perfect time to begin my blog regarding reflections on writing “My Darling Dorothy,” a novel which is set in the decades surrounding World War II.
My understanding of VE day has always been anchored in the incredible photo of a soldier kissing a nurse in Times Square, confetti flying everywhere, the streets packed with jubilant people; laughing, crying, and waving American flags.It seemed only logical to me that the American soldiers in Europe celebrated in a similar manner until I read a letter from my father to my mother dated May 12, 1945, five days after VE Day. Here is an excerpt from that letter:
“Hello Darling – How’s my honey making out these days? What did you do to celebrate VE day, or did you celebrate? We all thought we would, but really it didn’t seem much different than any other day here. All the difference is that the shooting is over. The day that I’ll be happy enough to do any celebrating will be when I hit the shores of the good old US.”
This changed the way I went about writing the chapter in “My Darling Dorothy” which dealt with this historic event. I had to think like a soldier. Why would I celebrate when I am still living in a tent, still eating rations, still sleeping on a cot or in a sleeping bag in a foreign country, far from home and the people I love? While it’s true that they no longer had to worry about shots being fired, the worry and anxiety didn’t disappear, it simply changed focus to, “How and when am I going home?” I learned an important lesson about writing a novel with an historical base, something I should have remembered from my thirty-seven year nursing career: never assume.
As I continued reading Smitty’s (my father’s) letters, I learned about where a soldier’s focus shifted. Everything revolved around the Advanced Service Rating score. This was a fascinating discovery for me, something I knew nothing about until I read the following excerpt from the same letter quoted above.
“Sweating this point system out is as bad as sweating out an artillery barrage, almost. (Ha) I have 84 points. That isn’t enough to get me home very fast. Of course I’ll make it in time, I guess, but god only knows how long a time that will be.”
Reading between the lines, it’s fairly easy to feel the angst that is masqueraded as humor in his comment about waiting. Imagine making it through the entire war, in Smitty’s case three years, and then having to wait for an undetermined amount of time to go home. As a writer, this creates a challenge; to get the reader to feel the anxiety and worry, just as Smitty did, waiting to find out when it would finally end for him.
I’ll write more about the Advance Service Rating in future blogs. Today, I am going to spend a couple of minutes in silence, recollecting that incredible day, and feeling grateful that Smitty made it home.