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A Writer’s Motivation by Jim Proebstle
As a young boy in the 1950’s it seemed like adults were still very focused on The War, as everyone called it. My best friend was Tim and his dad served as a Major in the US Army. Everyone called him, Pete. He had an endless supply of paraphernalia from his tour of duty—sleeping bags, cool belts, hats, canteens, field glasses, etc. Tim and I used to “play war” endlessly in the back yard and the woods nearby using every prop we could. Great fun! The one thing we were forbidden to touch was his service revolver, a .45 caliber pistol, issued to officers. We shot the gun once under Pete’s supervision to see just how destructive the weapon could be. It was scary, but still exciting because my dad didn’t serve in the war, at least not in the armed services.
My dad held an exempt status deferment due to his aeronautical engineering degree and job with Goodyear Aerospace. In our house, my brothers and I never talked about the war the way Pete did…you know, first hand stories about army buddies and how this war was the last one we’d ever fight. The closest we got to war stories was how the neighbors would tell my mom that some men in suits stopped by asking about us; “Did my dad keep regular hours?—Did we get lots of visitors?—Were there lights on in our house at strange hours?”— stuff like that.
The only obvious family connection to the war in our house with men in uniforms was the picture of Curly, my dad’s brother, in his pilot uniform. It was an 8 x 10 portrait sitting on my parent’s chest of drawers in their bedroom. Uncle Curly seemed like a nice man. His big smile always greeted me when I went into the room. His eyes seemed to make the picture come alive, which I would learn was not the case. He died in a plane crash during the war. My mom told us boys not to ask questions, since my dad and Curly were very close growing up and it hurt my dad very much to discuss what happened. That was basically Curly’s existence in our family, other than the occasional reference to how much my older brother looked like Curly.
As an adult myself, I learned little more of Uncle Curly other than the fact that he was the pilot of that flight and all sixteen passengers and three crew died in Alaska on September 14, 1944. The hurt inside my father continued until his death in 1990. My mother died shortly afterwards. Part of my inheritance was an old cabin in northern Minnesota. Not much of a place, but important to my parents. Our visits there over the years made it important to our family as well, so we decided to rebuild, keeping just enough of the old design to preserve the tradition of the “old cabin” alive.
Before the reconstruction could begin we needed to clean things out. I’ll never forget my wife, Carole, calling to me from one of the upstairs bedrooms, “Do you want to keep this old box of your dad’s?”
My dad was a packrat so my normal reply was, “You decide.”
Carole continued, “You might want to look at this before throwing it out.”
I trudged upstairs and she handed me a box. It was a cardboard box with broken corners, maybe from a department store. It was hand labeled, Curly’s Clippings. I was stunned. We had never seen the box buried amongst so much stuff. In it were pictures, newspaper articles, letters of condolence, letters of correspondence from the Army chain of command responsible for the search and rescue, letters written by my grandparents demanding more information, flight aviation maps of Alaska, postcards and many published stories of the unusual crash that took eighteen lives. All of these documents were from 1944-1945 and in perfect condition.
As a new author with my first book under my wings, In the Absence of Honor, the box was a treasure trove of motivation, research, passion and creativity all rolled up into one idea, “I need to finish Uncle Curly’s story.”