Wisky For The Men

A novelist joins his ancestor on a trip West and discovers in her daily travails an intimate view of a tremendous national migration

For the past several days I have been traveling from Dover, New Jersey, toward Fort Washington, Ohio, with my great-great-great-grandmother. Read more »

My Guns

A MEMOIR OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR
Seeking the answer to a simple and terrible question: What was it like?

I was born in 1944, toward the middle of October, when a lot of people were getting killed for me, or blown up, or shot, or captured, or worse. Worse? “The shell hit him about here,” said a veteran not long ago, remembering that time and place; “he disappeared.” Read more »

Hardships

An Airman’s Sketchbook

On April 6,1942, I joined the 40th Squadron of the newly formed 35th Fighter Group then being assembled at Bankstown, New South Wales, Australia, a suburb of Sydney. The 40th was flying training missions in P-39s, for which I for one was duly thankful, since I had only four hours of flying time in the plane we were expecting to fly in combat and I had never fired the guns. Read more »

I Fought For Fidel

In the twilight of Castro’s regime, one of the soldiers who put him in power recalls what it was like to be a fidelista up in the hills four decades ago when a whole new, just, democratic world was there for the building

Like a hurricane spawned in distant waters, the full force of the collapse of world Communism has finally reached the island of Cuba and seems poised to sweep away the last vestiges of the Marxist-Leninist structure erected there over the last three decades. The demise of Cuban Communism has been better foretold than its rise: in 1958 few Americans could have imagined the establishment, ninety miles off their shores, of a Soviet-allied state that within four years would bring the world to the brink of nuclear catastrophe.Read more »

Memory As History

Seeking the truth of an event in the memories of the people who lived it can be a maddening task—and an exhilarating one

The chords of memory may be mystic, as Abraham Lincoln described them, but how accurate and reliable they are as evidence is a dilemma every historian must face. From the time Herodotus walked through Asia Minor two thousand years ago, asking questions, tapping the recollections of hundreds of eyewitnesses, historians have depended on the retentive faculty of the human mind for information about the past, and they have learned that such reliance has its minuses as well as pluses. Read more »

Close Encounter

The mysterious thing that happened to Lieutenant Colonel Brown over Bremen in 1943 sent the pilot off on a quest that lasted his entire life. Finally he found the answer. It had been worth waiting for.

In December 1943, Capt. Charles L. Brown flew his first mission over Germany as aircraft commander of a battle-weary B-17. What happened that day is an extraordinary untold story of World War II. Recently I sat with Lieutenant Colonel Brown (USAF Ret.) in the leafy yard of his Florida home. His keen memory supported by a diary, he told me the tale. Read more »

Visions Of My Father

You can rise fast and far in America, but sometimes the cost of the journey is hard to tally

FOR A LONG TIME I HAVE WANTED TO write about a vision of my father I experienced on a New York City subway train riding downtown to a literary meeting. As a historian I am skeptical of visions. I pride myself on my rationality, I rely on facts. But as a novelist I believe in visions. Now I see a way to tell the story in the context of other visions of my father that have pursued me lifelong. Read more »

Haunted Home

When the author moved into a 1905 house on an island near Seattle, he found himself sharing it with the uncommon people who had lived there before him

Bainbridge Island, Washington, where I live, seemed to me amazingly unspoiled for a suburb of Seattle until one afternoon last spring,when I borrowed a neighbor’s kayak and for the first time pulled my way up Port Orchard Channel. I was top-heavy and a little ungainly with my dripping paddle, so I kept close enough to the beach to wade ashore in case I capsized. But the water was clear all the way down to the barnacled stones scattered along the bottom, and it was agreeable slipping north among the widgeons and pintails, cormorants and gulls. Read more »

My Grandfather, The Mormon Apostle

Discovering a giant in the family

Emerson wrote that “there is properly no history; only biography,” so my brother and sister and I knew that the revered collection of diaries and papers that had once belonged to our grandfather, which during most of our early lives was in a closet in an upstairs bedroom, contained some serious stuff. Our mother was a professional journalist, and it was always assumed that she would write her father’s story. But she intended instead to write a novel based on his life.Read more »

Triumph And Tragedy

It was the second of May, 1945, six days before the end of the war in Europe. We were members of Headquarters Battery, 608th Field Artillery Battalion, 71st Infantry Division—one of the spearheads of Ration’s 3d Army, driving south through a conquered Germany toward Austria, the last unoccupied part of Hitler’s Reich.Read more »