Spokane North Notes
A weekly bulletin of the Spokane-North Rotary Club
October 27, 2014
Editors: Chuck Rehberg and Sandy Fink
Photo: Eric Johnson
Program coordinator: Jim Minkler
               In tune with the times: President-elect Lenore Romney announced that the Holmes Elementary School choir will sing holiday songs at the club’s Dec. 15 luncheon.  Site of the lunch is still to be determined.
War stories with a personal touch
                In newspaper journalism they are called “Wall Street Journal leads.”  The idea is to tell detailed stories about complex issues through the first-person experiences of a subject.  The key is to find just the right subject to profile.
               Author Carol Edgemon Hipperson has perfected that engaging style in her two books about World War II.  She shared her insights with the club at the Oct. 27 luncheon.

               Carol, wife of longtime club member and past-president Brian Hipperson, said her painstaking research and story-telling takes about five years to produce each book.
               In “The Belly Gunner, she wrote about Dale Aldrich, an Army Air Corps ball turret gunner in a B-17.
               Because he knew how to drive a tractor on the farm, draftee Aldrich was sent to mechanics school, then volunteered for the gunnery school. Stationed in England, Aldrich’s plane was shot down in December 1943 over Holland.  Aldrich was betrayed, captured and spent the rest of the war in the infamous Stalag 17 prisoner of war camp near Krems, Austria.
               In “Radioman,” Hipperson tells the saga of Ray Daves.  He enlisted in the Navy in 1939 and witnessed the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.  Daves served on a destroyer, a submarine, a cruiser and the aircraft carrier Yorktown, which was sunk by the Japanese in the battle of Midway on June 7, 1942.
               Hipperson, a self-described “farm girl and rodeo queen” from Coulee City, said the first question she typically gets is “what made you write about military history?”
               The short answer, she told the club, “is three words: God called me.”  Carol said an old friend called her from an African mission in 1995 and said her dad, a WWII combat vet, was dying.  The missionary was convinced her dad would die before she could get a furlough to visit a year later.  Her main regret, Carol related, was that her friend’s dad had never talked in detail about his wartime experiences, the things that gave him recurring nightmares.  So she asked Carol to write his story, adding, “God told me to call you.”
               To which Carol replied, “Yeah, right, that’s what a missionary would say.”
               Carol’s career path had taken her from WSU to Wilbur High School, where she taught English and had reservations about how the typical history textbooks presented their material.  Aldrich’s stories were “way outside the textbooks,” Hipperson said.  “No one had written a detailed account of the war from an ordinary enlisted man’s point of view.”
               Among the tributes for her work, a Kansas educator said, “The narrative unfolds matter-of-factly, with no pretense of grandeur or heroism.”  Noted Spokane-area outdoors writer Pat McManus, whose humorous works have been New York Times best-sellers, wrote of Carol’s work, “it fairly glows with authenticity.”  Carol took McManus’ writing class in the master’s program at EWU and he encouraged her new career.
               Hipperson said, “The purpose of the books is to teach the history of war through one man’s eyes.”  Since “Belly Gunner” dealt with the Air Force, and “Radioman,” featured the Navy, her next book, due out in about a year, will detail the ordeals of a Marine in Korea.
Is a Vietnam book in the offing?  “Oh, God,” replied Carol, thinking of another daunting five years of finding the right person, getting a fully detailed, personal account from a probably reluctant veteran, and researching every aspect of the setting and the stories.  “If I do one on Vietnam,” she added, “it would have to be an Army veteran.”
               She said after “Belly Gunner,” she had “no intention to write another book.”  But that first work won numerous awards and was the first book included in the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project reading list for schools nationwide.
               Another motivator for a second book was “the calls from WWII vets, to a man thanking me for telling it like they remembered it,” Hipperson said.  Also, she added, America was really fighting two major wars which happened to occur simultaneously, so stories about the Pacific Theater were still to be told.
               Daves, one of Spokane’s Pearl Harbor Survivors’ Group members, fit the bill perfectly.  Daves received the Purple Heart award in 2010 on his 82nd birthday, when he met Hipperson. Daves was an air traffic controller after the war and his story was so compelling that Spokane International Airport’s new control tower is named for him.
               Hipperson said getting vets to recount their traumatic experiences is difficult, but essential.  Both of her subjects dealt with post-traumatic stress and had nightmares.  Getting them to talk was not easy.
               “You can’t just say, ‘tell me about the war;’ that’s too general,” Carol said.  “You start by asking, ‘why did you join the military?’”  She added: “You learn the geography” of the battle sites in which they fought and the details of their battles.  In Daves’ case, for example, how many crafts were moored at Pearl, and how many personnel were on the Yorktown deck at Midway.  Her meticulous research even corrected some previously official details.
               With the right approach, “you can see a flicker of recognition in their eyes,” she said, and their stories flowed.
               Hipperson maintained that there are some similar characteristics of military personnel throughout history, including “fear and determination. From the time of the Roman legions until today, a soldier is a soldier,” she said.
               In the question period, club member Chad Haverkamp, an Army infantry vet, talked about some differences among troops serving in Afghanistan.
               Chad recalled that while assigned to a unit training home-grown troops, an imposter suicide bomber detonated an explosive device which killed five U.S. troops in the base’s mess hall five days before Christmas.  Chad was uninjured.  He was sent to guard the landing strip for arrival of a dignitary whose identity he did not learn until his mom called from Mead to say it was Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.  She had seen the story on CNN.
               The point was that 24-7 worldwide television coverage and the proliferation of social media have changed public perception of the battlefields.
               Asked about Laura Hillenbrand’s 2010 best seller, “Unbroken,” Hipperson said that book focuses on “somebody famous” (former Olympic track star Louis Zamperini), while her books focus on ordinary people in the war.