Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Including "Real" People In Historical Fiction And A Book Review of WAR IN KOREA

One of the cool things about writing historical fiction is the people I have "met" in my research. Some are relatively well-known, some are names buried in history. It is especially cool if I'm able to include their stories in my WIP, Half-Truths.


For those of you who are unfamiliar with the plot, Kate Dinsmore, my protagonist, moves to Charlotte, NC in 1952 to live with her paternal grandparents. Her father has just left for the Korean conflict. Soon after moving in, Kate meets Lillian Harris, the granddaughter of her grandmother's cook. The girls uncover family secrets that bind them together in ways neither can ignore. 

There are several "real" people who I've included in my story. Carolina Israelitepublished by Harry Golden  is a newspaper that Kate's grandfather reads. Kate is a budding journalist and at the end of the book gets a job working in his office.  Kelly Alexander, the NAACP leader in Charlotte, NC from 1940-1980, is someone Lillian admires; his voice is heard in Half-Truths. The DeLaine case in South Carolina led to the landmark Supreme Court decision to integrate schools in 1957; Mrs. Harris reports about it at a NAACP meeting the girls overhear. (You'll have to read the book to find out how they're able to finagle that!) 

And then there is Marguerite Higgins

Kate first reads about Miss Higgins when she reads this quote in the New York Herald Tribune: I wouldn’t be here if there was no trouble. Trouble is news, and gathering it is my job.” Kate is inspired by Higgins' courage and bravery. 

By the way, Higgins covered WWII, Korea, and Vietnam and in 1951 was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Foreign Correspondence. The Pulitzer Prize jury wrote, “She is entitled to special consideration by reason of being a woman since she had to work under unusual dangers.”

Now, back to Half-Truths. At one point in my book, Kate chides herself for her lack of bravery. She writes this poem in her steno pad:

Daddy and Marguerite Higgins  
face bombs      
hidden mines       
swarms of enemy soldiers       
that kill, maim, and destroy.    
Thousands of miles away  
I’m safe    
from death’s grenade.  
I wanted to know more about Higgins and ordered her .25 cent autobiography, War in Korea, (Doubleday, 1951) off Amazon (now worth a bit more!) Her reporting was amazing given the dire circumstances within which she worked. As I often do with nonfiction books, I'm going to quote some of her outstanding observations of the war between June and December, 1950.


During one long wait, while a scouting party was looking for a place to ferry across the river, Colonel Wright noticed my gloomy air. "What's the matter, kid," he asked, "afraid you won't get your story out?" And after a pause he offered, "Look, stick by this radio truck and we'll try to send out a message for you if you keep it short."

It was now growing light, and in my elation I immediately get out my typewriter, put it on the front of the jeep, and typed furiously. Streams of retreating South Korean soldiers were then passing our stationary convoy. Many of them turned their heads and gaped at the sight of an American woman, dressed in a navy-blue skirt, flowered blouse, and bright blue sweater, typing away on a jeep in the haze of daybreak. I got my copy in all right. But as far as I know, communications were never established long enough  to send it." (p.12)

.....Before long the Americans were leading a ragamuffin army of tattered soldiers, old men, diplomats, children, and a woman war correspondent. (p. 13)

Can't you see these scenes unfold?

I was crouched by the side of the windy airstrip typing a quick story on his visit when the general [Douglas MacArthur] appeared. He was clad in his famous Bataan gold-braid hat and summer khakis with the shirt open at the collar. He smoked a corncob pipe....

On seeing me on the airstrip, the general came over to say hello and then asked if I would like a lift back to Tokyo. Since the Bataan [his plane] was the only means of flying back to communications and getting the story out, I gladly accepted. (p. 14-15)

Or, how about this:

It looked that afternoon, for a few brief moments, as if I would never leave Taejon. Late in the day I was jeeping unconcernedly past the compound of that enclosed division headquarters. Suddenly a roar of voices boomed to me to come back.

Looking back, I saw dozens of soldiers, their guns pointed in my direction, peeping around the compound fence. Tanks in front of headquarters also had their guns trained my way. So I hastily wheeled my jeep about and pell-melled into the compound, heading for the building we had adopted for the press. It was deserted except for Bill Smith of the London Daily Express.

Smitty and I went over to the headquarters building to try to find out the cause of the trouble. But about all we found was a number of headquarters men, how had never been shot at before, under a table... (p.56-57)


Joining the sad, dusty American exodus over the winding mountain road, we finally turned off at 21st Infantry Regimental Headquarters, located in a Korean schoolhouse. It was close to midnight and already the ain room was filled with snoring officers sprawled on the floor. Everyone slept in his clothes for the simple reason that you had to be ready to move at a second's notice. I quietly put my blanket done on the floor, doused myself thoroughly with flea powder, and went to sleep.

The astonished offer who woke up the next morning and found me next to him on the floor caused considerable amusement around headquarters by dashing into Colonel Stephen's room with the exclamation, "My God, sir, did you know we'd been sleeping all night with a lady?" p. 57

Seventy years later we might think this is funny, but Higgins faced considerable difficulties because she was a woman. 

Ultimately, her writing and reporting were stellar in a fearful and dangerous situation. 

General MacArthur's great gamble at Inchon had paid off. And in the forthcoming days I was able to fulfill the promise I had made myself--I walked back into Seoul.

It was not an easy or a pleasant walk. The United States Marines blazed a bloody path to the city. The going was particularly rough the day that Charlie Company of the 1st Marines seized a Catholic church in the center of Seoul. We did not know that the road was heavily mined until a medic jeep raced ahead of us. The jeep blew up directly in our path. Of the three people in it, only the medic survived. And his torn body and shredded, bloody face were a ghastly sight.

We quickly climbed out of our vehicles. The company commander shouted to us not to step on any freshly up-turned dirt--it might be a mine. On the rough dirt road it was difficult to follow his instructions, so we went forward on our toes. (p. 86)

Before finishing this blog I listened to President Trump's latest updates about the coronavirus. In Half-Truths, Kate Dinsmore is challenged by the courage of this journalist who wasn't afraid to risk her life to get the story right. 

She's also an inspiration to me to be brave in a different type of war. 


Connie Porter Saunders said...

Thanks for sharing Carol. I love it when historical fiction includes snippets about real people in the plot.

Carol Baldwin said...

I'm glad you do, Connie!

Theresa Milstein said...

I love when historical fiction includes real people too.

Sandra Warren said...

Well done once again, Carol. It's exciting when you can fit the real into the not so real. It's like working on a puzzle and finding the last piece of the boarder or completing a section you've been working on.

Carol Baldwin said...

Definitely like a puzzle, Sandra!

Jarm Del Boccio said...

Wow. This is amazing. I wasn't aware of this story. It IS fun, isn't it, to uncover these gems!

Sarah's Book Reflections said...

Interesting post, Carol. Thanks for sharing. I have friends who fought in the Korean War, though at that time it was a "Police Action" and, coming on the heels of WWII in my young mind, a very frightening time. Too bad Ms. Higgins couldn't go back to edit her work, but she was a brave soul.
Your mention of Gen. MacArthur reminded me of the animosity my family held toward him, since my father was captured and made to endure the Bataan Death March, and my maternal father was second in command to Gen. Wainwright on Corregidor and did not survive the war. My family was angry because they felt that MacArthur and the War Department abandoned the soldiers in the Philippines. I look forward to reading your book when it's published to much acclaim. Sarah

Carol Baldwin said...

Thank you for reading and commenting Sarah. Higgins thought this might be WWIII starting. YOu have personal connection to the war and to the characters. Not sure about the acclaim--but thanks for the hope!

Sarah's Book Reflections said...

Yes, I remember that being bandied about and I think that's one of the things that scared me. Everybody thinks that growing up in the 50s was a nice, easy time. In a way it was, but it was also scary. We had bomb drills where we'd hide under our desks at school as if that were going to protect us from bombs and nuclear radiation all out. We didn't know if we were going to be invaded. Probably contributed to my having that recurring nightmare I describe in EARTHQUAKES.

Carol Baldwin said...

Yes, probably Sarah. Your book is up soon on my TBR list. I'll look for how your experience informed your writing. It's all grist for our mill, right?

Young Authors Program said...

You've done a lot of research for this book Carol, and it shows!

Carol Baldwin said...

I hope so, Dorothy!

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