My Uncle Jimmie was captured December, 1942 by Rommel’s Afrika Korps in the North African Theatre, Tunisia. He spent World War II as a prisoner of war first in Italy, then Germany. He was my inspiration for Let the Dead Bury the Dead. I dedicated the book to him.
Photo of Uncle Jimmy on his first day home. He walked through a mud puddle. When asked why, he replied because he wanted to plant his feet in Oklahoma mud, and there was nobody to stop him.
Let the Dead Bury the Dead is not his personal story, but a representation of what thousands of POWs went through when they returned to a country at peace while many still felt imprisoned. There was no Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder back then. Many were considered “shell-shocked” or “broken.” In the case of my character Aaron Timmons, the atrocities of what happened in the Philippines had not yet come into public knowledge. Sergeant Timmons survived the March to Bataan, beatings, starvation and the hell ships where the prisoners were crowded into the holds of unmarked ships without proper food and sanitation for transport to Japan. Some of these unmarked ships were bombed by American planes. Their treatment was so horrific that of 27,465 Americans captured in the Pacific, 11,107 never returned home. Nearly a third of the survivors died of disease or suicide in their first years of freedom.
In Germany, besides the meager rations and forced marches, my uncle’s camp was between the approaching Russians and the Germans. Artillery shells flew overhead day and night. He never thought he’d survive.
Growing up, I heard bits and pieces of what happened to him. I knew he couldn’t go to sleep in a room without the windows open. He couldn’t leave any food on the table. It had to be eaten. I learned these things from his daughters which is why Gracie tells her father’s story in the book.
In June, Uncle Jimmie will turn 102. He’s amazing. We’ll have a party on his family’s old homestead and have cake and ice cream. The local fire department might show up again to make sure the birthday candles don’t get out of hand. (One hundred and two candles make quite a fire.) All his nieces and nephews will be there. He’s the last of his generation on both his and my aunt’s sides of the family. We love him.
Happy Birthday, Uncle Jimmie. As I wrote in the dedication: Always my hero, a kind and loving man. And thank you for teaching us determination and courage.
Besides, Uncle Jimmie, my dad and uncles, Walter and Vance, also served in World War II. They had their own amazing stories. One day, I’ll write about them. I’m sure you have stories and heroes in your life. Most heroes don’t wear uniforms. Tell me about them. I’d love to hear.