Friday, December 3, 2010

How I discovered a "forgotten war"

I confess, when I came to Korea 20 years ago, I didn't know much about the Korean War. I knew of the war, but not much. Even though I minored in history, my knowledge of the conflict was severely and sadly limited.

Most of what I knew, like most Americans from my generation, was from what I gleaned from watching M*A*S*H. Two of my uncles fought in the war, but I never recalled them at any time, when the family got together for holidays or birthdays, regaling us with any "war stories."

What I knew and what I didn't know would all change that cold day in February 2000 when I bought Retrieving Bones.

If there is any penance for my ignorance, or autobiographical underpinnings in War Remains, look no further than the character of Michael. Much of what Michael does to learn about the Korean War was what I did after I read Retrieving Bones and the other books I read and reviewed for the Korea Times, as well as the articles that I would eventually write about the Korean War Commemorative events in Korea.

I knew when I started writing my novel that I could never really accurately describe combat or know what it was like because I have never been in combat. But what I could do, and what I knew I could do well in the novel was write about what it would be like for an ordinary person to learn about a war the way that I did and the way that Michael does in the novel.

1 comment:

  1. Jeff, here is a copy of the book review that I posted on LULU for you. Five Stars - really enjoyed the book!

    Jeffrey Miller penned a fantastic novel about a loving family’s quest to learn more about Robert “Bobby” Washkowiak, who was listed as MIA during the Korean Conflict. The story first introduces us to Bobby and his closest friends from advanced military training, Harold and Walter, who have all arrived together in Korea during the fall of 1950. The U.N. troops had the North Koreans on the run and retreating to the North. Victory was eminent and it was rumored that the American troops would be home for Christmas.

    We are then introduced to Bobby’s wife, Mary and their young son, Ronnie via the many letters written home from the war. Bobby was deeply in love with this woman and wanted her not to worry about him while he was fighting this war. It would soon be over, he’d write, and they would all be together again. In fact, he promised to return home. Then the Chinese enter the war and it is the U.N. troops that are retreating. Human waves of Chinese soldiers attack and penetrate defensive perimeters, forcing the American soldiers and those of other nations to hastily retreat south in an attempt to survive the onslaught. Only to be led through a gauntlet of enemy soldiers where many soldiers did not make it through to safety.

    Several decades later, we find that Ronnie had survived his own war in Vietnam and later married and had a son of his own, Michael. Both men come upon a footlocker that had been stashed in the attic and long forgotten in Mary’s former home. Inside, they find a treasure trove of letters, pictures and other memorabilia that had been sent home from Bobby to his wife while fighting in the forgotten war. Their mother and grandmother had saved everything! Michael takes it upon himself to study the Korean conflict and battles, reading and re-reading his grandfather’s letters in an attempt to trace his route through time. He was surprised to find so many similarities between his grandfather’s letters home and the stories of others. He was finding that he could soon predict what the next letter might say.

    Jeff does an excellent job taking the reader though a time machine, back and forth between current day and then moving back to spend some time with Bobby and his close friends in 1950 and 1951. The author also had a knack for knowing when to switch gears and move to a different time. In fact, it was something like this that caused me to stay up much later than I should have so I can go back in time and find out what happened next. Great job Jeffrey!
    War Remains is a highly recommended read; it’s not only a war novel, but a story of love, hope and honor. Bobby made a promise to return home to his wife and family. Does he live up to it? Read the book and find out.

    John Podlaski
    Author: Cherries, A Vietnam War Novel


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