Writing Notes

A Note to My Readers

David Fish, one of our recent visitors to this little corner of the web, lost his father in the Southern Philippines during a Marine PBJ Mitchell mission in 1945. His father served with VMB-611.

David’s note reminded me that I had some photos and film footage of Marine PBJ’s. In doing some research, it looks like the film footage is of VMB-612, and I could swear the legendary Jack Cram is in some of the sequences. Not sure which units the photos are of, but I am posting them here today in hopes David might be able to catch a glimpse of his dad. Stay tuned for another post in a few hours.

In 2009, I lost somebody in Iraq very close to me. I used to call him my unofficially adopted son. Almost six years have passed and I think about him every day. The sense of loss, the grief over his death has diminished, but I know it will never go away. His death became one of those inescapable fault lines in life that change everything. I look back, and I see my life was heading in one arc before 2009. After, it went a totally different route after his death.

I remember in the 1990’s when I was interviewing Gerald Johnson’s widow, Barbara, her grief over his death had been one of the defining elements of her entire life. It never goes away. My friendship with Barbara gave me the first insight I had into the cost to those left behind in the wake of war. I was so young and naive back then, thinking that the war was a great and tragic adventure, the source of endless stories. Barbara suffered through seven decades of pain after Ged died in 1945. I get that now.

Jeez. Even writing about this chokes me up.

Anyway, whenever I can, I’ll do what I can for those of you out there who have lost someone in service to your nation. I’ve collected about 45,000 photographs over the years and have a lot of film footage as well, and I’ll do my best to find images of your loved ones, or at least of their units.

Regards,

 

John R. Bruning

 

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Categories: Writing Notes | 7 Comments

The Writer Private Legg

Bataan Death MarchPrivate First Class John Legg grew up in Tioga, West Virginia, another of Depression Era kid who sought escape and opportunity through service to his country. He joined the Army Air Force, where he was trained to be a teletype operator and clerk.

On December 8, 1941, Legg was stationed at Nielson Field on Luzon, Philippines, and might have been one of the clerks who sent the teletype warning to Clark Field that it was about to be hit by a Japanese air attack. Legg was an aspiring writer who wanted to pen a novel about the Philippines. His experiences there had given him much inspiration, and he’d been keeping notes for what he hoped would be his first book. In his off-duty hours, he wrote poetry as well.

He was not a rifleman; he was not a special operations sniper. Legg was one of those anonymous young Americans who carried out one of the mundane daily duties that keeps a military organization functioning. The jobs have zero glamour, and historians rarely even make mention of their jobs, let alone those who filled them. Legg was captured when the Philippines fell in the spring of 1942. He survived the Death March and made it to Cabantuan prison camp, but the ordeal had wrecked his health. He steadily declined, suffering from dysentery and malaria until he died on August 16, 1942.

His mother was notified via telegram the following year of his death. A short letter followed the telegram a week later. It ended with this sentence:

“May the thought that he gave his life for his country as unselfishly and heroically as if he had died on the field of battle, be a source of sustaining comfort to you.”

Small comfort to a West Virginia mother who would not even learn of the exact date of her son’s death until 1946.

John Legg had a writer’s eye and heart. In On Writing, Stephen King wrote that most people either are born with the talent and it can be honed, or they just don’t have it. No amount of effort or work can replace that innate gene that makes a truly gifted writer. Legg was one of those who had the innate talent.

The world lost a beautiful mind when he died in captivity. Had he lived and realized his potential, one wonders how his words could have affected and changed those who read them. His death was but a tiny piece of a mosiac that stretched the globe. So much lost potential. So many discoveries, inventions, changes and art lost to all of us with the deaths of so many souls. One wonders how much further we could have advanced and evolved as a species had we not lost so many millions like young John Legg.

Only a few examples of his talent survive. Here is one of his poems that he wrote sometime in 1941 while feeling far from home out on the edge of America’s Pacific ramparts.

 

Dreamer’s Haven

Beyond the fields of clover bloom

Beyond wheat fields so green

Far past the dust of traveled roads

Where travelers all convene.

Where we hear not the rattling wagon

The hum and grind of the mill

There is a place, known just to me

Where everything is still

A path lies winding through the woods

And leads to a sheltered grove

Of maple, beech, dogwood and pine

That form a shaded cove.

Within, a space is almost bare

Of briars and vines that creep

And here a carpet of flowers and moss,

Lies green, and soft, and deep.

A sparkling spring from an unknown depth

Flows upward;  in it one finds

A thirst consoling, icy draft

Sweeter than goblets of wine.

The silence is unbroken here

Hour after hour the same

Unless a bird calls to its mate

Or a tree frog croaks for rain.

In this shaded cover, one soon may be

In the peace of contentment, the best

And knowing there is naught to harm

One may think, or in sleep, on may rest.

In the stillness one’s thoughts often wonder

To things gone behind, far away.

One remembers some happenings of life,

With gladness, and others….dismay.

Your dreams are made real by surroundings,

You picture a castle so fair

And awake to find sad disappointments,

In that your dreams vanished in air.

And then one may just sit and gaze

Into the sky, so far away, so blue.

And think how happy you would be

If only your dreams could come true.

If you are sometimes tired of life,

When friends forget, and there seems

To be no joy, break away and come

To the woodland cove, and dream.

 

–PFC John M. Legg

Categories: World War II in the Pacific, Writing Notes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Writing in the Woods

14261106052761930810878So, my next book is due in August to Hachette, and I’ve been doing a lot of travel for the research end of this project. In September, I took a month-long road trip that took me from Oregon to Texas, Maxwell Field, Alabama, up to Arkansas and St. Louis, then back home via Nebraska, Utah and Idaho.

I just got back from spending ten days at the MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk, Virginia. If you have an interest in the Philippines during WWII or the SWPA–you need to check the MacArthur Memorial out. Amazing resource.

I’m now sitting on about eight thousand pages of World War II documents related to the life and experiences of the legendary Paul “Pappy” Gunn. Indestructible is the title of this latest project of mine, and it chronicles the experiences of Pappy and his family during the war.

I try to write in inspiring places. I finished Shock Factor and wrote much of Trident on the beach in Capitola, California, staying the Venetians or the Harbor Lights next to the wharf. Much of my work is done in an old USAF SAGE air defense command center left over from the Cold War. I rent the control room, where instead of plotting unidentified aircraft on the projection wall, my family watches Harry Potter movies. Much of the building is empty, which allows me to take breaks and roller skate through the hallways wearing the helmet I carried in Afghanistan. The kids and their friends will often have nerf wars there, too.

But right now, I’m up in the Cascade Mountains, writing at a cabin I’ve used since 2009 to kick start projects. When I first came up here, I would bring Volley, my New Orleans cat. He would lounge next to me in a rocking chair as I wrote, fire going in the wood stove. During breaks, we’d hike through the woods together, and my little orange cat would stay right with me. Later, I started taking Vol and our “Gateway Dog” Mizette (a French papillon) up here, and they would hang out together while I worked.14266989446461644734216

I’m not sure how many books I’ve worked on here. I know I finished The Trident up here and wrote most of Level Zero Heroes too. It is a great refuge, and very remote. For the first four years, I had no phone or net access from the cabin. I’d have to drive four miles into the nearest town (population 75) to access wifi and get reconnected to the outside world. The only hotspot was the Cedars, a bar with the best juke box I’ve ever encountered. I was there over the weekend, working in the back of the bar on Saturday night as a bachelorette party raged. George Thorogood was supplying the tunes, then John Mellencamp and CCWR. Nothing like hearing Up Around the Bend in a dive bar on a Saturday night. 🙂

Anyway, I’m up here right now telling the story of Pappy Gunn and his family. I have great whiskey with me, thanks to my old friend Dawson Officer. He opened a distillery next to my office outside of Corvallis, Oregon a few years back. Dawson was a soldier with 2-162 Infantry, Oregon National Guard, and he named his company 4 Spirits after the fallen men his company lost in the ’04 Iraq deployment. His bourbon whiskey cannot be beat–so smooth. Check it out of you are a fan of good spirits.IMG_0252

Plenty more to come on this site when I get back to the land of the living later this week. I did want to take a minute and thank each and every one of you for coming to visit my little corner of the net. It is so rewarding to see this site grow and watch as visitors from all of the world get to know some of the amazing individuals I’ve written about here. So, a profound thank you once again. I know we all have tons of things competing for our time these days, and for you to spend some of that precious resource here with my words means more than I can express. I’ll do my best to keep finding interesting stories and photographs in the months and years to come.

In the meantime, the Japanese have just bombed Nichols Field in the Philippines, and Pappy’s got to protect his family. Mizette is here with me, sleeping in the rocking chair Volley used to love. I’m surrounded by hundreds of pages of notes, and binders full of documents.

 

Chapter three awaits….

 

 

Thanks for Reading, if it wasn’t for y’all, I would not have a career doing what I love,

 

John R. Bruning

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