Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Michigan Book Tour

They say you can’t go home.  I’m not going to try to.  My return to Michigan for book tour lectures and interviews is not an attempt to recapture my past but an opportunity to tell a great story. 

I spend a lot of my time researching and writing about the past.  When it comes to my own past however, I have little desire to go back.  While I write about the past I don't see my own past as my "glory days."  I have always believed that my best is yet to come. 
I was an awkward kid (aren't we all?) during my high school years.  Like most youth, my thoughts were not how to make the most out of where I was, but focused on the future and where I wanted to be.  I prematurely outgrew my home town; at least in my own mind.  Like many people I spent many years thinking of my hometown as boring.  That simplification gets you through your youth I suppose.  Now, in later life, I have started to develop a deep appreciation for Michigan and the history of my local area. 
I am looking forward to the events I have coming up in Michigan but not for the reasons you might think.  This is not a matter of me seeing people I knew in high school and college…that will be nice.  I planned this trip to give back to the community.  The subject of my book Lost Eagles, Frederick Zinn, was born in Galesburg and raised in Battle Creek.  For me this is a chance to tell the people in those communities about a local hero that they might not have heard of.  I think Fred would have wanted it that way. 
This trip is not all promotion for Lost Eagles.  I am currently working on a true crime book set in Marshall Michigan and I'm hoping to do some research while I'm there.  It helps to know the locales, the people, the lay of the proverbial land.  Sometimes my family name opens doors, sometimes it slams them shut.  That's part of the fun.  
So, if you're in Michigan between December 3-7, please stop in at one of my events and soak in the discussion. Check my web site Blaine Pardoe News for the latest on where I will be.  I hope you find these lectures entertaining.  Obviously I hope you buy the book - that's a forgone conclusion.  If you get a chance, introduce yourself (or reintroduce yourself).  You never know where my next story may come from or how much you might be able to contribute.  After all, it's not my history, it's your history I'm fascinated with.

Monday, November 8, 2010

All Gave Some, Some Gave All…

My new book is out!  Lost Eagles (University of Michigan Press) has finally released.  It has taken a long time to reach this point and I must admit, its publication lets me sigh with relief.  For me, this book was a departure in many respects.  True, it's a biography.  At the same time it tells a much larger story, of how America deals with its missing in action.
This book demanded I write it.  I know that sounds weird, but hear me out.  I was born in Virginia but raised in Battle Creek Michigan.  My parents owned an antique store in the tiny town of Galesburg.  I encountered Zinn while writing Terror of the Autumn Skies and was shocked to learn he was born in Galesburg and raised in Battle Creek.  How was that possible?  I should have heard of him before then.  After all, someone who was a WWI aviator would have drawn my attention much earlier.  Where were the statues or the streets or schools named after him?  

Answer:  There weren't any. 
Initially I was excited that he was a member of the famous Lafayette Flying Corps.  He was a member of the French Foreign Legion, the original "Band of Brothers." To me these were incredible and caused me to dig deeper into his life.  When you work on such a book, you have to go where the research takes you.  What I discovered was that Zinn pioneered searching for missing servicemen, specifically aviators.  Up until he came along, the Graves Registration Service didn't look for the missing but if they found them, they tried to identify and inter them.  Zinn changed that.  He said, in essence, "we can look for these boys and bring them home."  No one had ever done or even suggested that before.  Of the 200 missing airmen from the Great War he recovered the remains or personal effects of 194 of them. 
Fred Zinn went on to set up the system for tracking missing airmen in WWII and served for a while in the OSS - the foundational origination for the CIA.   While he was a writer, he never wrote an autobiography.  His son told me that with his dad it was never about him, it was about the men.  So when I wrote the book I was compelled to honor that.  Between each chapter of his life story, I included a chapter on some of the missing men Fred Zinn searched for.  For WWI history buffs, this is something that will be a real treat for the readers.   
Picking the aviators to include in the book was not easy.  It meant a lot of research at the National Archives and in Zinn's files at the Air Force museum.  I selected pilots spread out across the country - from all sizes of towns.  Some were recovered by Zinn, some were not.  I tried to pick aviators that were not the "big names" in the WWI community, with one exception (Victor Chapman of the famous Lafayette Escadrille).  I wanted to bring some stories to light that most history readers had never heard before. 
The aviators covered two world wars - which expanded my horizons in terms of research, though the focus was clearly on the WWI cases.  I researched a lot of pilots, their final missions, and what happened after they died.  I got some wonderful stories by doing this, though a few never made it to print.
This book lured me into the records of the OSS at the National Archives.  I was a little humbled at first, it is a huge records group and navigating it is more of an art than a skill.  Every box I opened (and there were dozens) was filled with stories of intrigue, daring, spy work and espionage.  I am convinced I need to go back and put out more books on the OSS.  There's a lifetime's worth of stories in those records. 
My favorite chapter of the book is the last one because it goes back to almost every pilot featured and tells the story of what happened after their death.  There are some real moving stories there.  I don't see myself as a religious person, but some of these stories make you realize there are forces at work in the universe we simply don't and can't understand. 
I wish I could have covered more of the aviators but ultimately that was not possible.   As an author you have to draw a line every now and then about what goes into the book. 
My only real regret (other than never meeting Mr. Zinn) is that the only commemorative marker to Fred Zinn was stolen in the 1970's.  Battle Creek and Galesburg don’t have a statue, a park or a street named after him.  In these times where the media tries to force us to question our military actions around the world, his story is one we cannot question - how we treat our honored missing. 
So order the book and check it out for yourself.  If you are an aviation history buff, I think you'll enjoy it.  If you are a military history aficionado, you'll love it.  If you have a family member who was an aviator that never came home, this book will hopefully give you a new perspective.