Thursday, September 08, 2016

Against the odds, they lived to tell the tale

My friend Steve Griffiths has published the remarkable story of his parents' adventures and misadventures in the guerrilla resistance to the invading Japanese in northern Luzon, the Philippines, during World War II. Steve had not yet arrived on the scene; his father Al -- an Episcopal priest -- and his mother Nessie later wrote accounts of survival alongside Steve's little sister Katy, an English-born nurse Dottie Tavener, and the Tingguian villagers to whom Al had been ministering. Because their remote location was beyond communications with his bishop and because Al had been a chaplain in the Army Reserve, the priest readily joined up with a resistance movement which impeded Japanese control of the area for nearly a year. Local leaders hid the family even when the Japanese took hostages from the village and threatened to kill the Padji, the Father. Eventually the family was captured by the Japanese and interned with other western nationals until the U.S. Army fulfilled General MacArthur's promise to return.

Steve's parents wrote their narratives in order to share the tale with their children (his sister was apparently considered too young to have remembered much). In consequence perhaps, the record they've left reads a little flat, considering the drama and hardship that living through these events must have entailed. After all, the little family made it intact and even returned to the Philippines where Al served as headmaster of an Episcopal school in the 1950s.

Steve shares some reflections on his parents' memoirs in an afterward:

... the pain and difficulty of the war years for my parents were not as apparent to me [when he read their manuscripts as a child] as they are now. The fact that they almost never discussed their wartime experiences when I was growing up -- rarely even in the company of friends who had been in the prison camp with them -- made me realize that the war had left a very deep mark on their lives. ... Perhaps surviving life-threatening challenges does not give you more strength, but may, in an insidious way, sap your remaining confidence ...

He always experienced his mother as an anxious person -- no wonder.
Steve brought out Guerrilla Priest: An American Family in World War II Philippines, using the services Dancing Moon Press -- a full service book company. The existence of such publishing enterprises means that otherwise obscure stories of ordinary people living through extraordinary events are likely to be far more available than in the past to future historians. My own cousins used the Amazon variant of this sort of small publishing to bring out my uncle's story: The Snows of Serbia: A child-soldier in the Great War.

While looking into these kinds of self-publishing possibilities for this post, I realized that my friend Sandra DeHelen, who has brought out more than half a dozen fiction titles through Amazon and other avenues, had written a serious blog post just last week on how to navigate this emerging field successfully: 15 Steps to self-publishing your book. Aspiring self-publishers, take note.

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