To honor and remember all of our veterans on Veteran’s Day, I turned to fellow author and amazing guy Brian Moreland to talk about his family’s military past. The story is pretty amazing. It also was the spark that lit the flame for his novel, Shadows in the Mist. Our past shapes our future. You’ll find no better example than this. Brian, take it away…
Sometimes life has a mysterious way of imitating fiction. A prime example is my relationship with my grandfather, retired World War II pilot, Captain Dawson Moreland. When I was a boy, I used to visit my grandparents in West Texas at least twice a year. Behind their house, they had an outdoor cellar. It had a metal door that opened up to concrete stairs that led underground. The cellar was full of boxes, antiques, and furniture gathering dust. I loved exploring that cellar as a kid.
One day, I came across an army footlocker that my grandfather kept secured with a padlock. Curious, I took him down into the cellar and asked him what was inside the locker. “Just photos and documents from my war days,” he said. As a kid, I was a huge fan of war movies and my concept of World War II was based on what Hollywood had shown me: courageous men like John Wayne and George C. Scott (playing General Patton) being tough war heroes and feeling proud to be a soldier fighting in the war.
I had been thrilled to know that my grandfather had been one of those war heroes. I asked him to open the locker and let me see his war photos. His eyes clouded over. “Sorry, Brian, but I can never open that locker. There are just too many painful memories.” Like so many veterans of his generation, he never talked about the war. Growing up, all I knew was that he had been an Army pilot and flew airplanes. The rest of his story was left to my imagination. Who was this man who worked hard all his life, lived with high integrity, was the patriarch to my family, and said the blessing at every meal? What secret life had he experienced before I was born?
My burning curiosity to know my grandfather’s secret life inspired me to write my WWII novel, Shadows in the Mist, a supernatural thriller set in Germany. It begins in present day. My main character, retired war hero Jack Chambers, has kept a dark secret from the Army for over sixty years. As nightmares of his platoon’s massacre begin to haunt him, he decides it’s time to reveal the truth. He gives his grandson, Sean, a German map and a war diary. “The map shows where my platoon was buried. The diary explains what really happened. Deliver these to General Mason Briggs at the U.S. Army base in Heidelberg, Germany.” Sean Chambers reads his grandfather’s diary and discovers in October 1944, Lt. Jack Chambers had been a part of a deadly top-secret mission where he and his platoon encountered a supernatural horror created by the Nazis.
Shadows in the Mist is both a war story inspired by my grandfather and a horror novel that explores the Nazis’ historical fascination with the Occult. It is based on true facts about Heinrich Himmler, the leader of the Waffen-SS, and his circle of Occultists who met secretly at the Wewelsburg Castle and practiced mystic rituals.
I was determined to create a platoon of misfits that people cared about. And for that to happen, Lieutenant Jack Chambers had to care about his men. So I made it his mission to do whatever it takes to get his men out of the Hürtgen Forest alive. They call themselves “the Lucky Seven” because as a unit they have survived so many combats together. They believe that they are charmed with some kind of strange luck. Two of them, Private Hoffer and Private Finch, are comic book writers. They believe that the Lucky Seven are invincible soldiers destined to be super heroes. They’ve all become superstitious. Each platoon member carries a good-luck charm and they do a ritual before every battle. Lieutenant Chambers believes his good luck comes from the silver watch his father gave him before he died. My grandfather gave me a silver pocket watch when I was young, and I cherished it.
I finished writing Shadows in the Mist a few years ago and now it’s published. My grandfather read the book and told me it brought back a lot of memories for him. He suddenly began sharing his personal war stories with my family. I learned that while training to be a pilot in England he roomed with Norman Rockwell’s nephew “Rocky” and enjoyed riding bicycles around London with the other pilots. They called Captain Dawson Moreland by his nickname “Hank.” He flew C-47s and dropped paratroopers over Normandy during the D-Day invasion. Thirty years after that day I was a curious kid in the cellar with my grandfather, he finally pulled out his World War II photos and showed them to me.
This is my grandfather’s first plane, nicknamed “Dabo” after my grandmother, whom he always called “Bo.” During the war, my grandfather got sick and spent a few days in a hospital in England. While he was grounded, another pilot flew “Dabo” into battle and got shot down. The Army found my grandfather’s parachute with “Moreland” on it and assumed he was dead, so they sent a letter to my grandmother telling her that Dawson had been killed in combat. When he found out the Army’s mistake, he sent a letter to Alma assuring that he was very much alive.
During the present-day portion of my novel, Jack Chambers’ grandson, Sean, flies to Germany. While riding in an airplane, Sean examines the mysterious war diary his grandfather had written. A photo of a platoon slides out. On the back is written “the Lucky Seven” and the names of each platoon member.
Lieutenant Jack Chambers
Master Sergeant John Mahoney
Sergeant Buck Parker
Corporal Duece Wilson
Pfc. Gabe Finch
Pfc. Rafe Hoffer
Pfc. Miguel Garcia
While writing and researching my novel, this fictitious platoon became like a “band of brothers” to me. My grandfather shared that in addition to being a pilot, he had done some routine field training. He showed me this photo of his unit. It looked identical to the photo I had imagined in Jack Chambers’ diary. When I counted seven soldiers in the photo, I got goosebumps.
In my book, Jack Chambers’ war diary reveals where a secret Nazi relic is buried in a German graveyard. By strange coincidence, life began to imitate fiction in 2008 as a relic from my grandfather’s past resurfaced. Two months before his 90th birthday, he received a phone call that his long lost airplane “the Snafu Special” had been found in Sarajevo, Bosnia. A French soldier found the Douglas C-47 parked at an airbase. Riddled with bullet holes from the Bosnian war, the plane had been abandoned in a snowfield. Curators from a D-Day museum in Normandy identified “the Snafu Special,” because the C-47’s tail number was still intact.
The WWII relic might have been lost forever had it not been for a team of French enthusiasts who were determined to rescue the plane and return it to the battery museum in Merville, Normandy. Against all odds, the members of Team SNAFU, along with French and American diplomats, convinced the presidents of Bosnia and Herzegovina to donate the plane to France. French engineers then disassembled the Snafu, loaded it up on three trucks, and transported the plane all the way from Bosnia to Normandy. Once it arrived at the museum in Merville, the curators restored the aircraft to its original glory and veiled it for a ceremony on June 7th.
My grandfather, being one of only two surviving pilots to fly “the Snafu Special,” was invited to return to Normandy to be honored with his airplane. My family and I got to go with him.
For a week that I will never forget, we attended several events that featured him as the honored guest. We visited the Merville Battery Museum where his Douglas C-47 is on display. Above, I’m standing (left) with my father, Keith, and grandfather.
The French media treated Captain Dawson Moreland like a celebrity, snapping photo after photo. He did several interviews for the local news and a French documentary about his airplane. Everywhere we went my grandfather was thanked for helping liberate France from the Germans who occupied the beach towns of Normandy back in 1944.
Many of the local French people were brought to tears by his presence and asked for autographs. When I asked him how he felt about the French treating him like a hero, he said, “I was never welcomed anywhere as great as I am over here.”
Together we toured D-Day museums, saw the Normandy beaches, and walked through the fields of white crosses at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. I could see that reflecting back on history was allowing my grandfather a chance to see the war from a new perspective. Surrounded by fields where paratroopers landed over sixty years ago, my grandfather began to open up and share his war stories. As a lead pilot in the 95th Squadron, he touched a part of history that involved missions in Africa, the Normandy invasion on D-Day, Operation Market-Garden, and the Battle of the Bulge. He dropped off paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st Airborne, including the Easy Company depicted in Stephen Ambrose’s book and HBO series Band of Brothers. My grandfather’s squadron also dropped off the infamous Dirty Dozen and delivered supplies to General Patton and carried out POW’s.
My grandfather’s Douglas C-47, “the Snafu Special,” is a historical relic that brought together diplomats from France, Bosnia, Herzegovina, the United Kingdom, and the United States, among them the U.S. Ambassador to France. On June 7th, the Merville Battery Museum unveiled “The Snafu Special” as a new exhibit and honored my grandfather in a historical ceremony. My eyes whelped with tears as I watched him climb up into the plane and wave back to the hundreds of people applauding him. Below, you can watch a 7-minute clip from a documentary I made of my grandfather’s ceremony.
After we returned home, I asked him what it was like seeing his plane after all these years, he said, “It was good to sit in the cockpit again.” My grandfather earned seven medals. He would never call himself a hero. To him, he was a pilot just doing his job.
In my novel, Jack Chambers misses his platoon who vanished mysteriously over sixty years ago. His grandson reads the war diary and learns his secret past. Like life imitating fiction, my grandfather finally shared his stories after sixty years of silence, and I finally got to know the secret history of the man and war hero I had always looked up to.
To honor my grandfather, I dedicated Shadows in the Mist to him. One of my most cherished moments is when the novel released and my grandfather joined me for my first book signing and autographed books alongside me. As of Veteran’s Day, November 11, 2012, he is alive and well at age 94.
Author Bio: Brian Moreland writes novels and short stories of horror and supernatural suspense. His first two novels, Dead of Winter and Shadows in the Mist, are now available. His third novel, The Devil’s Woods, will release in 2013. Brian lives in Dallas, Texas where he is diligently writing his next horror novel. You can communicate with him online and join his mailing list at http://www.brianmoreland.com/
Brian’s Horror Fiction blog: http://www.brianmoreland.blogspot.com
Coaching for Writers blog: http://www.coachingforwriters.blogspot.com
It’s Terrortober and I have the books you should be reading right here. Now, those of you following me on Twitter know that every day I post what horror movie I’ve watched with a rating and the hashtag, Terrortober. To add to the fun, the Monster Men have put together an episode dedicated to a plethora of great books available at Samhain Horror.
OK, grab a pen and paper and get ready for your mandatory reading list. This will count for 75% of your grade!
I think the best way to talk about this past Horrorfind Weekend is to roll with the random thoughts and pictures. So, here’s what’s dripping out of the old brain pan, 24 hours after we departed our little horror shangri-la.
Attendance wasn’t as, shall we say, robust as it has been in the past. However, that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a lot going on. This was my first time at Horrorfind as a guest. I was at the Samhain horror table with 7 other talented authors. All of them were as nice as can be (not evil, devil worshipping sex maniacs like people think horror writers are) and it made me realize I’m in some stellar company. Big time twisted love to Brian Moreland, Ron Malfi, Mick Ridgewell, John Everson, Damien Walters Grintalis, David Bernstein and Russell James. You don’t need to be a psychic to know the future of horror is right here at Samhain.
And I can’t forget the Samhain staff, including Don (our amazing editor), Dawn and Jacob, he of the mighty kilt (though he is wearing jeans in this pic)!
As the fates would have it, my hotel room was right next to actress Meg Foster’s (the actress with the amazing crystal blue eyes of They Live fame, not to mention about 100 other movies and TV shows). We got to talking about ghosts and meditation, hugged, and even exchanged a copy of Forest of Shadows for a signed picture. She’s a fascinating, caring woman. What I wouldn’t give to go back in time and tell the teenage me that I would one day meet her and hand her my book that she said would be her plane read. Teen Hunter would have said, “Yeah right, hammer. Keep dreaming.”
I was in the bar with author Norman Prentiss and saw an old dude walk by. I said, “That guy looks like Rob Halford.” Norman corrected me. “That’s Pinhead!”
I watched Dee Wallace hold court one night, sitting with a few other celebs while a ring of onlookers gaped at them. Dee and the gang were just having some drinks, but it was like they were on a little stage. Not wanting to be part of the rubberneckers, I trained my attention on the scraggly guy singing karaoke tunes from Rocky Horror Picture Show. Disturbing.
Actress Kim Darby (Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, True Grit) was also near my room and I happily led her down to show her where the celebrity room was. She’s a kind and seemingly fragile woman. For some reason, I kept checking on her to make sure she was having a good time.
We met the cast of Pet Sematary, with the exception of Fred Gwynne, of course.
My favorite attendee was this little guy who walked around in dress pants and dress shirt, wearing a lucha libre mask and sometimes carrying a brain on a stick. Over 3 days, he never once took that mask off.
I also met a pretty cool guy who hand crafted an entire Ghost Busters costume. It was impressive to say the least.
I rode the elevtor with Count Gore De Vol and we talked about what we had for dinner the previous night. The Count had yogurt for those keeping track. Wonder if it was blood flavored?
During my slot in the author reading room, I showed a Monster Men best -of episode and talked about ghosts. That was fun and I kept people awake, which is always a good sign.
For lunch one day, I had a hot dog that looked like a cooked baby arm. Not by intention. As someone said to me, a hot dog that big had to be filled with lots of snouts and assholes.
My wife bought me a skull for my writing area. Here I am showing my appreciation.
On the last night, all of the Samhainers went out to dinner in Gettysburg. It’s amazing to see how all of the history has been put aside so they can stress the paranormal. The sidewalks were even painted with little ghosts. Ghosts sell. We did see a bunch of Civil War re-enactors having dinner outside an old tent. Keeping to tradition, they munched on McDonald’s.
As a New Yorker posting an article the day after our little tremor, I couldn’t resist the title. Below is a blog by writer Brian Moreland on the state of bookstores and publishing. I couldn’t agree with him more…
Farewell to Borders; Hello, e-Publishing, By Brian Moreland
“According to the Association of American Publishers (AARP), sales figures for the first half of 2011…paperback sales dipped nearly 18% and hardback sales fell 23% compared to the same period the previous year.”
On the contrary, e-book sales are up 160% from this time a year ago. Every publishing professional I’ve talked to sees ebooks as the future for books.