A Message for Readers:
My latest book, The Other Veterans of World War II: Stories from Behind the Front Lines illuminates a little-understood and often ignored side of World War II—that of noncombat soldiers. These men and women who served in all branches of the military often miles from the front lines in Europe, North Africa and the Pacific, like their combat brothers, have remarkable stories to tell. It is the war in a nutshell, packed with details of the enormity of the global operation. The facts, figures, and asides gathered during extensive research complete the picture of these human-sized stories replete with the veterans’ sacrifices, their faith and their humor.
What I hope readers come away with is a better understanding about World War II and what drove sixteen million people to serve their country, and to understand that not everyone handled the controls of fighter plane, looked through the B17 bombardier’s scope, or took cover in a foxhole, but that all played a role in winning the war. All are worthy of our respect and honor. And, I will be satisfied if I have inspired one person to spend a few minutes with a veteran and ask them about their service and overjoyed if one of those encounters leads someone else to capture a veteran’s story and tell it and tell it and tell it. All so very relevant to what Stories Behind the Stars and Fold3 are about.
Author - Rona Simmons
My book SHOT DOWN is set within the framework of World War II and about the individual experiences of each member of a B-17 bomber crew after their plane (piloted by my father) was knocked out of the sky by German fighters over the French/Belgian border on February 8, 1944 and about the courageous Belgian patriots who risked their lives to help them.
However, it's purpose is more than just to remember and honor my father and his crew. It is to remember and honor all the men who served in the 8th Air Force fighting the deadly air war over Europe during which 26,000 men died (more than the entire Marine Corps fighting in the Pacific) and another 28,000 men became prisoners of war after their planes were shot down.
More generally, it is also to remember and honor all the men and women who served in the United States Armed Forces during World War II. No other event in history affected more people than World War II. Sixty million people died. Millions more were wounded. Millions more were displaced and left homeless. No one alive was untouched by it, and no nation was spared the cost and horror. World War II changed the course of America and the world forever. The brave young men who fought and died for freedom are The Greatest Generation, and we must never forget their sacrifice to preserve the freedoms that we enjoy today. It is our duty to remember
My novel Flying Time is fiction, but it incorporates the true story of a young American soldier, Pvt. Roy Willis Humphrey, of the 3rd Infantry Division who was killed during the Sicilian Campaign in 1943 despite heroic efforts to save his life. This tragic loss inspires the heroine of the novel to join a traveling USO production to do her part for the war effort. She visits various bases in the South Pacific, including Guadalcanal and finds her destiny along the way.
After writing the book, I finally fulfilled a lifelong dream of visiting Guadalcanal myself. There I, too, found my destiny when local people told me they had discovered the dog tags and remains of a missing-in-action soldier, Pfc. Dale W. Ross, and asked for my help to repatriate his remains. Since then I’ve found myself on a journey to solve the mysteries of those we lost and have made trips to the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Peleliu, and Sicily to uncover their stories.
I’m currently working on nonfiction books about these expeditions to tell the stories of those young men who never came home from such faraway places. While many MIAs will never be recovered, just documenting their stories is an honor for me and my small way to ensure that their sacrifices will not be forgotten.
My first book, “Kamikaze Destroyer” began as a search for how my uncle was killed on the USS Hugh W. Hadley (DD-774). The Hadley Reunion website stirred my interest into writing the book. The crew’s 95-minute air/sea battle against waves of kamikazes at Okinawa was historic. They shot down 23 planes…an all-time naval record for a single engagement.
It was great story. But the two-year project became something more. It was really about the stories of 362 men who served on the Hadley that day. Details about their battle and 385-day journey is told from interviews, letters, and diaries. The ship was hit by three kamikazes and two bombs. There were 152 casualties. Thirty men were killed, including my uncle Louis J. Veesenmeyer. The ship nearly sank. A determined crew kept her afloat and she was towed for home. Along the way a typhoon nearly sank the ship again. This is not just a story about a ship, but about the men that made the ship a legend in the annals of the U.S. Navy history.
My most gratifying experiences from this book came from family members of Hadley shipmates. Many siblings, sons, daughters, and grandchildren thanked me for writing the book. Most had no idea what their loved one had experienced. My message through this book and other writing projects is for veterans to “tell your story.” And if they can’t…you can tell it for them.