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DATo
July 3rd, 2016, 12:41 PM
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Long. I doubt if anyone will read it, but here it is just for the hell of it. Those parts, which could be conceivably known to this American author, are true as stated.

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Boats That Sail Across The Skies

by

DATo

Sing proudly Ares of the destruction thou hast wrought, of the hearts thou hast shattered, of the lessons thou hast taught. Yet in the chaos thou hast spread, among the screaming, among the dead, I shall remember that I am Man and armed with the weapon of my mercy thou shalt fall.

CHAPTER I

July 1943
A military staging base on the outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona - U.S.A.

"We’re heading west boys, so have your gear packed and be ready to move in forty-eight hours. I can’t tell you when we’ll be on the Pacific or where on the west coast we’ll be shipping out from, that’s classified, but ... we’re a-goin’. This time it’s for real. So if any of you knuckleheads hasn’t filled out his GI life insurance papers or if you have any letters to send home do it now." said Lieutenant Morrison to his platoon of 48 men as they sat congregated in one of the newly built quonset huts.

"One more thing. I’ve been told that we will need an electrician in this platoon. Anybody here an electrician, or do I have to requisition one?"

Private first class Vincent Matteo sheepishly raised his hand.

"How old are you son?" inquired the lieutenant.

"Nineteen years old sir." responded Private Matteo.

"And you’re an electrician?" asked the lieutenant skeptically.

"Yes sir. Got an early start. Finished technical school in ‘40 then me and big brother started a company. We were doing OK and then the Japs hit Pearl and, well, here I am." said Vincent.

There was a slight smattering of laughter and nodding of heads as other members of the assembled group remembered how their own lives had been turned upside-down by the war.

Lieutenant Morrison pointed directly at Private Matteo’s nose and said, "You’re now a sergeant. You’ll be responsible for three trucks and six men."

Once again there was a smattering of laughter by the men, this time accompanied by applause and a few catcalls. The men knew they could get away with this. The unusually close relationship of the men and their lieutenant, though it did not strictly adhere to military protocol, had contributed to the feeling of kindred closeness and the high level of morale in the group.

Vincent, while looking at the ground he sat on and nodding with a silly grin, raised his hand to acknowledge his comrades and then, in all seriousness, saluted Lieutenant Morrison as if to say, Ok with me boss.


July 1943
Kwajalein Island - Marshall Islands - Pacific Ocean

Corporal Katsu Kotako sat in a grass hut overlooking the bay to the north of Kwajalein Island, the largest island of the Kwajalein Atoll. It was a beautiful day. Great billowing clouds of the purest white were accentuated against the cobalt blue backdrop of the sky. Corporal Katako was charged with the mindless duty of visually monitoring, from his elevated hilltop position, an expanse from the beaches to the distant horizon of the Pacific ocean for signs of an enemy which, on such a perfect day, Kotako was hard-pressed to believe actually existed.

Corporal Kotako was hard-pressed to believe many of the things he had been told but he wisely kept his doubts to himself. He knew, for instance, that any enemy approach would be known long before he sighted them. They would be picked up by radar, patrol planes, and picket ships, but his duty was to sit in this hut and serve as an observer, and he almost always obeyed orders willingly. He felt a mild pang of uneasiness when he thought of the times he had disobeyed orders however. During the occupation of Guam he had intentionally shot over the heads of the civilians he was charged to kill as they fled in confusion. He had also intentionally missed the people he was once assigned to shoot as a member of a firing squad. He knew the victims lives were forfeit, someone else would see to it, but he could not bring himself to be a killer of the helpless; in fact, to date, he was unaware of having harmed anyone since the beginning of hostilities. There was always the off chance that one of his bullets fired into the general area of an enemy had found its mark, but so far he had never been aware with any degree of certainty of anyone ever killed as a direct result of his own, intentional efforts.

He watched the clouds as they passed across the sky and smiled. Since the time when he was a child he had always loved to watch clouds rolling across the sky. He thought of them as sail ships, sailing to unknown destinies.

In addition to knowing that his present duty was a worthless waste of time, he was also aware that the sun was an enormous fireball in the heavens - one of an apparently infinite number of stars which just happened to be close to the earth. But he had been told that the sun was a god and that his Emperor was descended from this god. Kotako could not reconcile the scientific facts with the beliefs he had been taught - the beliefs his parents and everyone he knew and loved believed and espoused. He tried not to think of it because every time he did he became confused. It was his duty to believe what he had been told by his elders.

He cleaned his already immaculate Ariska 99 rifle to pass the time. He remembered the lecture he received when he was given the rifle. During the lecture the officer told of a famous and mighty band of warriors who had lived long ago. When going off to war the warriors were told by their own mothers and wives to return with their shields or lying dead upon them. Such was the respect and reverence to be shown by every warrior of the Imperial Army of Nippon to his rifle. Kotako thought it curious at the time to think that a mother would hold the value of a shield to be of more importance than the life of her own son.

"It’s time Katsu. I am here to relieve you. Go get something to eat." said Corporal Onoda. "How many Americans have you killed in the last four hours?"

Corporal Kotako laughed and said, "I wouldn’t joke about that. We may be seeing them sooner than we think."

"Why would they want this ridiculous atoll? Sometimes I think the army is punishing us for all the infractions we’ve committed and thought we had gotten away with by posting us here." said Onada.

"YOUR infractions Kinji - san. I do not commit infractions." replied a laughing Katsu Kotako, but his smile melted as he once again remembered his dereliction of duty regarding the ordered killing of civilians. He inspected his rifle one last time before shouldering it and leaving the hut.



March 2014
Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery - St. Louis, Missouri - U.S.A.

An American flag snapped sharply against the wind of a beautiful blue sky - a sky accentuated with billowing, pure white, cotton candy clouds. The monotonous clanking sound of a halyard against the metal flagpole was interrupted by three barked orders, followed each in turn by the precisely timed reports of three rifles. Sergeant Vincent Matteo, aged ninety, was being laid to rest. The three rifle bearers, in Marine dress blues now stood at parade rest as a white-gloved military officer presented the flag which had covered their father’s coffin to his three middle-aged children, Vincent’s wife having preceded him in death.

As the congregation of friends and family began to depart an elderly man was approached by Joseph Matteo, Vincent’s oldest son.

"Uncle Paul! Did Virginia mention for you to join us back at dad’s house? The girls put together a lot of food for everyone for lunch." said Joe Matteo.

"Yes, yes I’ll be there. Listen, I want to tell you now, before I forget, to stop by my place sometime soon. I have something of your father’s that I want to give to you."

"Yeah? What is it Uncle Paul?"

"This isn’t the time or the place Joey. Just stop in when you can." replied Uncle Paul. "How are you boys and your sister holding up?"

"We’ve been expecting it. After all he was ninety years old. I think he was ready, too. I think he was just tired of living Uncle Paul, and he never stopped missing mom. We’re just grateful that he had his wits right up to the end. Just last week he was telling us again, for the hundredth time, about him and his buddy, Ack-Ack, during the war." laughed Joe.

Uncle Paul laughed too. "He had so many funny stories. Well, he had a gravy assignment for the most part and missed a lot of the carnage. He and his crew used lights and generators to light up the bombed out Japanese runways at night so the Seabees could get them repaired after the islands were taken and secured. Those airstrips were of the highest priority and they had to work day and night to make them operational again as soon as possible, but you already know all this. Your dad probably helped build a couple dozen airstrips during that war."

"Yeah, and he told us about every one of them too." laughed Joe. "I miss him already Uncle Paul"

"See you back at the house." said Uncle Paul as Joe Matteo climbed into the limo with his sister and brother for the ride back.


March 2014
Aichi Prefecture - Honshu - Japan

Sachiko walked carefully over the uneven pathway leading from her home to the commercial district. She was still, despite her age, very spry and healthy though the winter had taken its toll upon her arthritis. She was on a mission to purchase something of extreme importance. If she failed to make the purchase she would be disgraced in her own eyes for the remainder of her life. She was startled as a motor scooter sped closely and noisily past her in the street. She would never allow herself to become accustomed to the modern state of the world. "Japanese children have all become Westernized!" she would often complain, "They lack respect for our traditions and historical way of life." Sachiko knew that her son or daughter would have willingly undertaken the errand to make the purchase for her if she had asked them to, but this was her duty, and her responsibility, to delegate it to anyone else would be disgraceful. Sachiko increased her pace in defiance of the pain she felt in her arthritic ankles.


=================================================


Chapter II


February 1944
Kwajalein Island - Marshall Islands - Pacific Ocean

The American military leaders had learned a bitter lesson on the island of Tarawa, their forces having sustained over six thousand casualties. They were determined not to repeat the errors which had led to those casualties. After a tremendous bombing campaign by air and sea forces the island of Kwajalein was attacked by fifty thousand American GIs effectively outnumbering the Japanese forces by approximately eight to one. Though fighting still continued at the far end of the atoll, on the island of Roi-Namur, the island of Kwajalein had been declared SECURED.

Corporal John Popowski, otherwise known as Ack-Ack by the men in his platoon approached the third of three utility trucks which had just disembarked from the gaping jaws of the LSD beached on the shore. The enormous transport had been disgorging equipment and supplies for the last hour.

"Hey Vinnie! One of the Marines of the Fourth Division just told me that they kicked the crap out of the Japs. They’re estimating over five thousand casualties. We lost only a hunnert or so killed and about eight hunnert more wounded."

The corners of Sergeant Matteo’s thinly trimmed mustache lifted in a smile as he said, "Just be glad your working for me Akkie or you might have been one of them. I think all that praying my mom does finally paid off. You got to admit Ack-Ack, we got it good back here. I feel awful bad for those poor bastards who are the first to set foot on these damn islands."

As Sergeant Matteo was speaking the piercing wail of the alert siren sounded.

"What the hell is going on?" said Ack-Ack. "This HAS to be a drill. There ain’t no Jap airbases around here that haven’t already been taken."

Then they saw the small speck in the sky to the northeast as it began its descent in a trajectory pointed directly at the beachhead.

"RUN FOR IT ACK-ACK !!!" shouted Sergeant Matteo.

They both ran to the promising protection of a wall of supply crates fifty yards away as the sound of the lone enemy plane and anti-aircraft fire became audible. Soon a half-dozen small bombs began exploding upon the beach, and then the lone plane veered northward directly into the sun to blind the antiaircraft gunners as it made its escape.

"You OK Vinnie?" said Ack-Ack.

"Yeah. You?" replied Vincent.

They then looked about them and noted for the first time that in addition to the crates, and beside them, were stacked what could be estimated to be two hundred artillery shells.

"You stupid Da-go!!! Why the hell did you lead me to these shells. If they had been hit and gone off there wouldn’t be enough of us left to ship home in an envelope!!!" screamed Corporal Popowski as he grabbed Vincent by the lapels of his shirt and shook him.

"You goddamned Po-lock!!!! I WAS FOLLOWING YOU!!!!" screamed back Sergeant Matteo as he threw himself upon Ack-Ack and wrestled him to the sand. Their fighting strength was soon sapped by their laughter.

They lay smiling on their backs in the sand looking up at the sky, euphoric in the knowledge that they were both still alive. Sergeant Matteo raised his arm and pointed.

"Look at those beautiful clouds Akkie. That one looks like a camel."

"The hell it does," Replied Ack-Ack. "It looks like a porterhouse steak, smothered in mushrooms and onions, with a baked potato and pie ala mode. And look ... look right there ... a cold beer. See the foam on top? NO! A WHOLE CASE OF BEER!"

They both laughed once more, like the couple of kids that they were, as the ‘all-clear’ sounded.


March 2014
St. Louis, Missouri - U.S.A.

"Hey, Joey! You should have called and told me you were coming. I would have fixed some lunch for us." said Joseph Matteo’s uncle.

"That’s OK Uncle Paul. Just ate."

"Everything getting back to normal?"

"Yes, pretty much so. We still have to decide what to do with dad’s house and go through his stuff to determine what to keep and what to get rid of. There are so many memories associated with all that furniture that it’s going to be hard to part with it, but we can’t keep it all." said Joe.

"Speaking of stuff," said Uncle Paul. I want to give you something of your father’s - what I mentioned to you that day at the cemetery. Have a seat. I’ll be right back."

A few moments later Joe’s uncle returned bearing his brother-in-law’s property.

"Woah! Was that dad’s? I never knew he ever hunted. Looks like a deer rifle." said Joe.

"No, Joey. He brought it back from the war. I guess he figured me, being so much younger than his own brothers, would be around longer to pass it on to you when he was gone. I wrote up an explanation just in case I caught it before I had a chance to explain things to you, but it seems that wasn’t necessary now."

"Was it his rifle during the war, Uncle Paul?"

"No Joey. No, it wasn’t." Paul Torralino had to sit down before he could continue. He ran his hands over the ancient relic tenderly as he awkwardly began the tale, "He wanted ... he wanted ... Oh, Jesus Christ! .... he wanted you kids to know what happened. He ... he had trouble talking about it. He cried when he told me what happened. He didn’t even tell his own brothers. I really don’t know why he even told me, but he did, and now at his request I must tell you. There is one war story of your father’s that you’ve never heard before."


March 2014
Aichi Prefecture - Honshu - Japan

Sachiko heard the tiny bell ring over the door as she entered the shop. The elderly proprietor, Aito Hirayama bowed deeply and smiled warmly at Sachiko as she made her way to the counter.

"Ahh, Sachiko!!! You have not been in my shop for some time. Have you renounced me? said Mr. Hirayama.

"You know why I am here, and if you tell me that you have none I shall pray that this roof collapse upon your stupid and irresponsible head." said Sachiko angrily.

"We have been friends since childhood dear Sachiko. Why do you speak to me this way? If you are angry with me please tell me what I have done." replied Mr. Hirayama.

Sachiko's attitude was at once mollified. "I am not angry with you Aito-san, I am angry with myself. I am old now and my mind does not work as it once did. I thought I had saved a second packet but I cannot find it. The anniversary approaches and I am in a panic. If you do not have any you must get some for me immediately! Please Aito-san, please do not disappoint me." Sachiko appeared ready to cry.

"Sachiko, Sachiko, please calm down, I have a goodly supply. I always overstock just for you. You know that I have always had a special place in my heart for you since we were children. Have you forgotten Sachiko? I have never forgotten."

For the first time Sachiko smiled. "May the gods of my ancestors bless you Aito. Please forgive my behavior."

Aito Hirayama took two packages from a drawer. "This you will pay for." said Aito Hirayama as he extended the small parcel wrapped in brown paper with his right hand. "And this extra portion is a gift, from me to you." he said as he extended his left.

"I'm sorry Aito." said Sachiko.

"Oh, go on! You have already said that." replied Mr. Hirayama.

"No, Aito. I mean for the other. You know I always thought fondly of you but …"

"Yes Sachiko." Mr. Hirayama whispered quietly. "I know."


===============================================

Chapter III

February 1944
Kwajalein Island - Marshall Islands - Pacific Ocean

Sergeant Matteo jumped off the truck before it had finished rolling to a stop.

"OK Keaton, this is where I want the trucks tonight. Right here. The engineers made a hell of a lot of progress today and I want everything to be set up tonight half-way between where they are now and where we expect them to finish tomorrow morning so we can light em up in both directions. Drive back and get O'Malley, and Ack-Ack to bring up the other trucks." said Sergeant Matteo.

"Sure thing sarge. We got plenty of time though - five more hours before sundown." said, Private Keaton.

"Yeah but I want to be already done setting up by sundown in case we have any glitches in the hardware we might have to fix like last time."

"Whatever you say sarge." replied Private Keaton as he sped away in the truck they had just arrived in.

Vincent stood all alone beside the tree line of jungle growth and decided this would be a good time to empty his bowels. As he walked toward the tree line he stumbled upon a fallen branch. He threw his arms outward to balance himself and froze in that position. Twenty feet in front of him was a Japanese soldier with a rifle pointed directly at his chest. Sergeant Matteo's mind raced to remember the prayer he was taught to say in Catholic school when one is aware of impending death but he could not remember it. He remained standing with his arms outstretched, weaponless, and devoid of all hope.

The Japanese soldier was extremely dirty and his clothes were torn and filthy. His left arm and head were wrapped in blood soaked bandages. He walked with a limp out of the tree line and stood facing Sergeant Matteo with his rifle elevated. And then he spoke ….

"Bee-Bee Root cahn-dy bah. Me-eat one-time." he then, impossibly, winked. He lowered the Ariska 99 rifle, smiled, and then ejected the shell. With the breach left open he held the rifle horizontally, despite the pain in his arm, and presented it to Vincent Matteo. Corporal Katsu Kotako had decided that the reverence he owed to the prospect of being reunited with his wife and daughter was more sacred to him than the reverence he held for his rifle.

Vincent slowly lowered his arms and had taken two steps forward when sound of the rifle blast exploded in his ears. He saw the Japanese soldier lurch backwards and looking over his own right shoulder saw a Marine soiled in dirt and mud, with one pant leg of his trousers torn off, and his right leg bandaged.

"You owe me one, Flashlight. I just saved your life." said the Marine.

"What the hell you talking about you stinking piece of sh*t? The kid was surrendering!" said Sergeant Matteo.

Sergeant Matteo ran to the fallen Japanese soldier and in his own ignorance of battlefield wounds resulting from his lack of battlefield experience was unaware that the injury was mortal. The soldier was still lucid but fading fast.

"You're gonna be OK kid. I got some trucks coming any minute now We'll get you to a field hospital."

Corporal Katsu Kotako raised his arm and touched Vincent's face. He then pointed over Vincent's shoulder at the sky.

"Do you see? Do you see, American soldier? Look up into the sky. Do you see the pretty clouds? They are boats which have come to take me home."

"I don't know what you're saying kid. You'll be OK. We'll fix you up good as new." said Sergeant Matteo.

Corporal Katsu Kotako then began to sing, "Boats sail on the riv-er, ships sail on the sea. Boats that sail a-cross the skies are pr……."

The Japanese soldier's lips stopped moving, his face became serene - a white, alabaster monument to his times, his gentle eyes were fixed upon boats sailing upon a cobalt-blue sky.

"Hey that's a nice rifle. The little monkey must have taken good care of it." said the Marine. "This is the one I'm gonna send home to my kid brother."

"He was surrendering, you son of a b;tch! What did you have to shoot him for? He could have killed me but he didn't!"

"Do you know what these bastards do to our men when they capture them? They behead them, that's what. What's your problem Flashlight? Get out of the way, I want that rifle."

"You're not gonna touch that rifle!" said Sergeant Matteo as he hurled himself upon the Marine.

Back home Vincent was a street-wise kid who could more than hold his own in a fist fight, but he was no match for the crusty, battle-hardened, and trained killing machine embodied in the Marine. Half-maniacal from battle the Marine soon had Vincent on his back, and as Vincent squeezed upon the Marine's throat with both his hands the Marine delivered the first blow to Vincent's jaw. Vincent saw an explosion of stars but he did not release his grip on the Marine's throat. The second blow landed on the side of Vincent's head sending a shockwave through him which caused his arms to fall. The Marine had lifted his fist to land a final, devastating punch but restrained himself at the last moment. Rolling off of Vincent he stood looking down at him.

"OK Flashlight. The rifle's yours. You earned it the hard way. But every time you look at it just remember that I saved your life. I saved your life - get it? Leave things where they are Flashlight. Your word against mine. You'd never, ever make it stick. You'll only make a fool of yourself." said the Marine, as he trudged back into the undergrowth.

In the distance, twenty men who had heard the rifle report were hurrying to the scene from the airstrip with weapons.


March 2014
St. Louis, Missouri - U.S.A.

Uncle Paul and his nephew, Joseph Matteo sat together for fifteen minutes without speaking. Then, Uncle Paul rose wordlessly and left the room. A moment later he returned with a bottle of bourbon.

"I know it's pretty early in the day for this ..." began Uncle Paul.

"Pour it. Pour it straight, and pour it big." said Joe Matteo. "Is there anything we can do? It might mean something to the soldier's family if they knew what happened ... that he refused to kill dad I mean. I feel we owe them. We owe them at least something."

"Your dad said they couldn't find out anything about him. Your dad tried, too. He tried very hard. We will never know who they are, and they will never know who we are either Joey. I imagine they must have wondered how he died. Maybe it would mean something to them to know what happened, but there's nothing to be done about it. Now it's up to you to pass the story on to your own kids. Maybe you could explain to them how, even in the hell of war, there is often to be found mercy and gallantry."

The two men sat in silence on Uncle Paul's back porch, sipping bourbon as they watched a graceful and leisurely procession clouds passing over the hillside.


April 2014
Aichi Prefecture - Honshu - Japan

Sachiko dusted the butsudan - the shrine to her ancestors located in the corner of the visiting room of her home - for the fourth time. She must change into her kimono before the guests arrive. She had placed the picture of her father in the center of the butsudan for this evening's gathering of friends and family.

She did not know the day her father died. After the war the military records proved very difficult from which to obtain information even of his posting. She knew he had been in Guam for her mother had told her so, but beyond that the waters were murky. As a result she had chosen the month of April - the entire month of April - to honor her father.

She was reminded of a day she had spent with her father in April. It was only one of very few memories of him that remained with her. She had been three years old and he had taken her to see the cherry blossoms in bloom. As he carried her in his arms beneath the beautiful canopy of pink-flowered branches which lined either side of the path through the city gardens he sang to her a song. She remembered it well though it was sung to her so many years ago.

Sachiko opened one of the small, brown papered parcels she had obtained from Mr. Hirayama and poured some of the brown crystals into the incense cup and lit it. Next she lit the tall candles on either side of her father's picture. She would repeat this ritual daily for the remainder of the month. Sachiko watched the sweetly-scented smoke of the incense as well as the darker smoke of the candles rise before her father's picture and then drift to the left of the butsudan and trail to a window which opened upon the sight of her own cherry trees now in full bloom.

Sachiko began to sing her father's song.

Boats sail on the rivers.
Ships sail on the seas.
Boats, that sail across the skies
Are prettier far than these,
Than ... these
Than-these,
Than-these.


Sachiko smiled as she watched the incense smoke rise and mingle with the puffy white clouds framed in the window between the flowering cherry branches, all painted upon a cobalt-blue sky.


Finis

jenthepen
July 4th, 2016, 08:37 PM
Hi, DATo, I did read your story and I found it very moving and thought-provoking. The way you have interlocked the passages through time and location works well. I have no suggestions about changes to the core story because I think you have it formatted in the most effective way. I do have a few suggestions on technical issues and I'll set them out for you to consider.

billowing clouds of the purest white were accented against the cobalt blue backdrop of the sky. - Did you mean accentuated here?

In the second part of the first chapter, you have a lot of repetition of phrases and the words 'Corporal Kotako'. Maybe you could change it up a little. The fact that Kotako is alone until the last few sentences means the reader is unlikely to become confused if you drop his name after the first couple of times. I realise that you are setting certain details into the mind of the reader so that they will understand their significance later in the story but, at the moment, it feels a little heavy-handed. If you want them to remember Kotako, you could mention a physical characteristic that would be memorable enough for the reader to recognise when he turns up again later. The same goes for the cobalt blue sky and billowing clouds - I know the image is important but you should trust your readers to make the connection. A couple of mentions should be enough.

Sometimes, reading the story aloud points up this type of unnecessary repetition and helps with the problem that haunts all writers - being too close to the story to see how it comes over to the reader.

Anyway, I hope my suggestions help a little. This is quite a powerful story and is well worth putting in the effort to make it read more smoothly. Thanks for posting it, I enjoyed the read.

jen

DATo
July 4th, 2016, 10:16 PM
Thank you for reading my story jenthepen, and thank you also for your response and suggestions. All of your criticisms are precisely on the mark: I agree with you in virtually every instance. The correct word IS, of course accentuated and I see what you mean about overusing the name Corporal Kotako. The characteristic I most hope the reader will remember about Kotako is his mercy mentioned early in the story. You're right, he's alone at this point, pronouns are in order. I think you understood why I repeated the phrase "cobalt blue sky" but once again you are right, it didn't need to be used so often.

Thank you so much for your observations! And thank you once again for your response.

Bard_Daniel
July 7th, 2016, 04:41 PM
I really liked this one, DATo. You managed to capture my attention from beginning to end and the way you had it segmented, in terms of time, made each scene precise and captivating. It's a sad story you tell and it left me feeling moved. I read this in one sitting as well and I was impressed from beginning to end. Very good stuff, DATo. Your characters revealed humanity and, in my opinion, this is one of the hardest things to capture as a writer-- so good on you.

Keep on writing and thanks for sharing!

DATo
July 8th, 2016, 10:51 AM
Many thanks danielstj! I am happy to know that you weren't put off by the length of it. Many people do not want to immerse themselves in such a long story so I seriously doubted that it would get many (if any) reads. I am very happy to know that you did not think your time had been wasted by reading the whole thing.

Jay Greenstein
July 10th, 2016, 05:45 AM
"We’re heading west boys, so have your gear packed and be ready to move in forty-eight hours. I can’t tell you when we’ll be on the Pacific or where on the west coast we’ll be shipping out from, that’s classified, but ... we’re a-goin’. This time it’s for real. So if any of you knuckleheads hasn’t filled out his GI life insurance papers or if you have any letters to send home do it now." said Lieutenant Morrison to his platoon of 48 men as they sat congregated in one of the newly built quonset huts.This is the equivalent of presenting the Gettysburg Address and then typing, "Lincoln said" behind it. It can't work for several reasons:

• The reader has no idea of who's speaking, why they were moved to speak, or the tone of voice in which it was spoken. And explaining it afterward, via a tag, can't retroactively remove the "what in the hell is going on?" the reader feels as they read it.
• It's not an announcement it's a soliloquy. In life the man would pause to let things sink in, evaluate the effect as he spoke, and in general behave like a human in that situation. As an example.

"Okay, listen up," Lt. Morrison said, as he came through the door of the day room. "I called this meeting because I have news. We're shipping out." That announcement got everyone in the platoon's attention. After a moment for that to sink in he added, "And we leave sometime in the next forty-eight hours."

Jaws were hanging all over the room. He couldn't suppress a smile as he said, "Yeah, it comes as a surprise to me, too. So pack your gear first thing tomorrow. Any questions?"

"Where are we bound, Sir?" one of the squad leaders called.

"I can't tell you that, or where we're boarding the troop carrier. I can tell you that this one won't be easy, so if there's anyone who hasn't filled out his GI life insurance forms, do it now. And write those letters home, but don't mention the deployment—and don't seal the envelopes because the letters will be checked to be sure you didn't." He scanned the men, to see how they were taking the news. It couldn't have come as a surprise, because they knew the political posturing that was going on overseas, and the government's response. But still, it wasn't good news, so he took a breath and held his hands out to silence the undercurrent of conversation in the room before saying, "This is what we've been training for. And it's what you're good at. So just remember that we're a team, and we watch each other's backs. And if we have to, we're going to kick some serious ass."

News given he turned on his heel and left the room, leaving the sergeant and the three squad leaders in charge, hoping he'd just spoken the truth.

Your story? No. Nor is it your characters, or great writing. It's a quick example of a more realistic approach to present a story, by placing the reader into the protagonist's viewpoint, in real time, so there is a feeling of time passing as they read.

I left some things out. Given that they're leaving, does the reader care if they're living in Quonset huts or wooden barracks? No. Does it matter if they're new or old? Does the number of men matter, at this point? Again, no. So any words used to mention it serve only to slow the read and dilute the excitement. The reader has learned that it's a platoon, and that there are three squad leaders, so they have a feel for chain of command.

Notice that by naming him first, and having him state what was going on, the reader has context for his words. By having him note that he has everyone's attention, we tick the clock, and make the situation more real. I had him smile, because it develops his character, and gives another tick of the clock as the men absorb the news. His comment on it being a surprise to him humanizes him, and shows that he's reacting to the effect the news has had. Another clock tick.

I had him ask for questions because by having others ask where they're going—a natural question—he has a reason to explain, without it feeling like the entire speech is a lecture. It also ticks the clock.

To show his character, and leadership, I have him note and respond to the men's reaction, and have reason to give a pep talk, and the hint that they would be in combat, to foreshadow the coming events in the reader's mind. Another tick of the clock. His thought at the end was to show that the protagonist isn't as certain as he sounds, as character development and further foreshadowing.

The technique I demonstrated is called motivation/response, and is a powerful way of adding realism and pulling the narrator out as a lecturer. You can read a good synopsis of the technique here (http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/art/scene.php).

It's worth chewing on the article till it makes sense. And if it seems worth pursuing, you might want to read the book it was condensed from. It's filled with things like this.

Hang in there, and keep writing.

DATo
July 10th, 2016, 01:06 PM
Thank you for taking the time to respond to my story Jay. I recently responded to a critique of another story I have submitted here called Lonely People. The critique was written by PrinzeCharming and in the main I had to agree with all of the points he presented. If you read my response to him you may note that I mention my gratitude for his thoughtful suggestions as well as my lack of patience with other reviewers who only nitpick and simply attempt to rewrite the story in their own words. I am sorry to say that in good conscience I can only view your critique in this instance as nitpicking. I offer my reasons for this assessment below.


This is the equivalent of presenting the Gettysburg Address and then typing, "Lincoln said" behind it. It can't work for several reasons:

• The reader has no idea of who's speaking, why they were moved to speak, or the tone of voice in which it was spoken. And explaining it afterward, via a tag, can't retroactively remove the "what in the hell is going on?" the reader feels as they read it.

• It's not an announcement it's a soliloquy. In life the man would pause to let things sink in, evaluate the effect as he spoke, and in general behave like a human in that situation. As an example.

When the curtain lifts on a play the audience is NEVER aware of what is going on. The information is metered out slowly like a saline drip. Readers soon become aware of who is speaking at this time in the story. It is not necessary to squeeze the entire bag of saline into their veins in the first sentence, to do so is a mark of patronizing your reader's intelligence. My intent was to thrust the reader into an ambiguous scene and then to slowly allow the scene to develop.

"Okay, listen up," Lt. Morrison said, as he came through the door of the day room. Soldiers do not assemble in a "day room". This is not a resort. It is a military staging area. Quonset huts were effective shelters which could easily be built to respond to the challenge of housing thousands of soldiers on short notice. This story is based upon a true story and the assembly took place in a quonset hut. "I called this meeting because I have news. We're shipping out." That announcement got everyone in the platoon's attention. After a moment for that to sink in he added, "And we leave sometime in the next forty-eight hours."

Jaws were hanging all over the room. He couldn't suppress a smile (Why is he smiling? Does he take pleasure in notifying his men that they are about to embark upon a jouney from which many of them will not return?) as he said, "Yeah, it comes as a surprise to me, too. So pack your gear first thing tomorrow. Any questions?"

"Where are we bound, Sir?" one of the squad leaders called. Where are we "BOUND"? This is not a 19th century English novel. It is difficult for me to imagine a young street-smart American soldier using this expression.

"I can't tell you that, or where we're boarding the troop carrier. I can tell you that this one won't be easy, ("Easy", as opposed to what? They haven't been to war yet. The comment suggests that they have knowledge of what is easy and what is not so easy.) so if there's anyone who hasn't filled out his GI life insurance forms, do it now. And write those letters home, but don't mention the deployment—and don't seal the envelopes because the letters will be checked By now these mean already know that their letters are censored. They don't need to be told this. to be sure you didn't." He scanned the men, to see how they were taking the news. It couldn't have come as a surprise, And yet two paragraphs above you say "Yeah, it comes as a surprise to me too." because they knew the political posturing that was going on overseas, and the government's response. "Political posturing"? I have no idea what this sentence means. At this point they are well past political considerations or "posturing" - they are at war. But still, it wasn't good news, so he took a breath and held his hands out to silence the undercurrent of conversation in the room before saying, "This is what we've been training for. And it's what you're good at. So just remember that we're a team, and we watch each other's backs. This entire pep talk sounds like something a ten year old would write in a story. And if we have to, we're going to kick some serious ass." "If we have to? we're going to kick some serious ass"? Like, as opposed to what? Does this imply that if they DON'T have to they will just sun themselves on some distant beaches? Also the term "serious ass" is a more modern colloquial phrase. I can just imagine these soldiers upon hearing that phrase say, "I've seen some skinny asses and I've seen some fat asses but what the hell is a serious ass?"

News given he turned on his heel and left the room, leaving the sergeant and the three squad leaders in charge, hoping he'd just spoken the truth. There are four squad leaders to a platoon; three rifle and one special weapons, thus four sergeants. Vincent Matteo was placed in charge of a special unit, one which would ordinarily be assigned to engineers - thus in this instance, five sergeants not to mention the platoon sergeant.

Your story? No. Nor is it your characters, or great writing. It's a quick example of a more realistic approach to present a story, by placing the reader into the protagonist's viewpoint, in real time, so there is a feeling of time passing as they read.

I left some things out. Given that they're leaving, does the reader care if they're living in Quonset huts or wooden barracks? No. Does it matter if they're new or old? Yes. To instill the idea that all of this is taking place quickly in response to Pearl Harbor. Does the number of men matter, at this point? Again, no. So any words used to mention it serve only to slow the read and dilute the excitement. The reader has learned that it's a platoon, and that there are three squad leaders, so they have a feel for chain of command. I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. No excitement is intended. It is an informational briefing for both the soldiers in the story and the readers of the story.

Notice that by naming him first, and having him state what was going on, the reader has context for his words. By having him note that he has everyone's attention, we tick the clock, and make the situation more real. I had him smile, because it develops his character, and gives another tick of the clock as the men absorb the news. His comment on it being a surprise to him humanizes him, and shows that he's reacting to the effect the news has had. Another clock tick. Not necessary to name him first. Not necessary to have him smile. (His character and closeness to the men is alluded to in the vignette.) WHAT CLOCK? There is no intent or need to build suspense at this point.

I had him ask for questions because by having others ask where they're going—a natural question—he has a reason to explain, without it feeling like the entire speech is a lecture. It also ticks the clock. He DOES explain that he cannot give them time or place. No need for questions. Read it again.

To show his character, and leadership, I have him note and respond to the men's reaction, and have reason to give a pep talk, and the hint that they would be in combat, (The men already know what's coming, so do the readers if they have any knowledge of WWII history at all; therefore, he doesn't have to "hint".) to foreshadow the coming events in the reader's mind. Another tick of the clock. This clock ticking is driving me crazy. Give it a rest. His thought at the end was to show that the protagonist isn't as certain as he sounds, as character development and further foreshadowing. What protagonist? Certain of what?

The technique I demonstrated is called motivation/response, and is a powerful way of adding realism and pulling the narrator out as a lecturer. You can read a good synopsis of the technique here (http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/art/scene.php). No thanks, I'll pass.

It's worth chewing on the article till it makes sense. And if it seems worth pursuing, you might want to read the book it was condensed from. It's filled with things like this.

Hang in there, and keep writing. Yes, I'll hang in there. Maybe some day I will write something which meets your criteria of good writing, or, maybe not.

Despite my reaction to your criticism above I do appreciate the fact that you took the time to read and respond to my story. I think we are just two people who must agree to disagree.

Jay Greenstein
July 14th, 2016, 03:54 AM
Something to take into account: I wasn't giving personal opinion as a fellow writer. I owned a manuscript critiquing service before I retired. So what you see is the result of talking to publishers, authors, and more, over a lot of years.

That doesn't say I'm right, or that you must listen. But based on experience, I urge you to read a few books on the subject of creating scenes and managing their elements, because, as a professional opinion, it would be rejected for the reasons given.

As a by the way: there's what appears to be a serious technical error I forgot to mention. At that time, an electrician didn't learn their trade in tech school, they learned via the apprentice system. In addition, the military usually promotes lower ranks at a company, not a platoon level. And as a personal observation, any officer who promotes a man and places him in charge of other men—who aren't electricians—because he says he's a competent electrician (without having the necessary leadership qualifications for the rank), and then depends on him to do the job without verifying that he actually knows the job is an idiot. In any case, if the platoon was given a job that required an electrician he would have been issued one.

DATo
July 14th, 2016, 02:11 PM
Something to take into account: I wasn't giving personal opinion as a fellow writer. I owned a manuscript critiquing service before I retired. So what you see is the result of talking to publishers, authors, and more, over a lot of years.

That doesn't say I'm right, or that you must listen. But based on experience, I urge you to read a few books on the subject of creating scenes and managing their elements, because, as a professional opinion, it would be rejected for the reasons given.

As a by the way: there's what appears to be a serious technical error I forgot to mention. At that time, an electrician didn't learn their trade in tech school, they learned via the apprentice system. In addition, the military usually promotes lower ranks at a company, not a platoon level. And as a personal observation, any officer who promotes a man and places him in charge of other menówho aren't electriciansóbecause he says he's a competent electrician (without having the necessary leadership qualifications for the rank), and then depends on him to do the job without verifying that he actually knows the job is an idiot. In any case, if the platoon was given a job that required an electrician he would have been issued one.

Hello once again Jay!

And once again thank you for your response.

1) As a by the way: there's what appears to be a serious technical error I forgot to mention. At that time, an electrician didn't learn their trade in tech school, they learned via the apprentice system

The man characterized in my story as Vincent Matteo is based upon a real person. He and his older brother went to a technical school known as Bailey Tech before the war began. Though Vincent was only nineteen years old he was qualified to perform the tasks required to set up and maintain the lighting units needed for the construction of the airstrips. You do however raise an interesting point. One would think that the engineering units who repaired the airstrips would have their own personnel to perform Vincent's task; however, for whatever reason he was given this job, accompanied by the rank, along with the six men mentioned and the three trucks. That part is factual. I can only surmise that to make him the equivalent of a "supervisor" they had to appoint him with the rank as well. I honestly don't know. Vincent, as per the story, died in March of 2014 or I would ask him and provide you with a better answer.

2) And as a personal observation, any officer who promotes a man and places him in charge of other menówho aren't electriciansóbecause he says he's a competent electrician (without having the necessary leadership qualifications for the rank), and then depends on him to do the job without verifying that he actually knows the job is an idiot.

I cannot answer for the points you make in your comment because once again I do not know. What I do know is that the real Vincent WAS given this responsibility, and WAS given the rank. I would think that the maintenance and operation of the lights did not require Vincent to necessarily have trained electricians as a crew. My guess is that the main occupation of this crew was to string and connect cables, run errands for fuel and keep the gas topped off in the generators, and, primarily, move the trucks to new positions as needed. Bear in mind that Vincent was not required to MAKE these machines but only to operate and maintain them. I can imagine Vincent having to troubleshoot problems like: replacing connectors which had become damaged as well as burnt out transformers or lamps. These are tasks that can be accomplished by your basic electrician. For the sake of brevity I did not (within the story) discuss the Army's method of qualification for Vincent to hold this post. It goes without saying that they probably checked him out to confirm what he claimed.

In cases of misspellings, grammatical errors, inconsistency, plot holes, factual errors, internal contradictions or lack of continuity I am VERY grateful for being placed on the carpet and having my work criticized, this will only help me become a better writer. Lacking the afore stated problems, criticisms based upon a reader's personal tastes are of no use to me. There are as many variants of how to present a story as there are readers to read it. I can only write it the way my muse instructs and hope the majority of readers will like it.

Thanks again!

Jay Greenstein
July 15th, 2016, 03:34 AM
The man characterized in my story as Vincent Matteo is based upon a real person. He and his older brother went to a technical school known as Bailey Tech before the war began.Matters not at all. Since the vast majority of people didn't know that. and lots of people will react, you would be better to have him say that he'd been working as one for two years, or have the lieutenant recognize the name of the school, and perhaps ask him about it. No officer is going to simply appoint someone on the strength of a claim. As someone who has been an electrician, and whose father was one, I can tell you that what counts is field experience.
I can only surmise that to make him the equivalent of a "supervisor" they had to appoint him with the rank as well.Only if he met all the other requirements and had the necessary time in grade. He would also have taken him aside to brief him on the duties he would be expected to perform, and discuss if he felt he could accomplish the job, both with the experience he possesses, and with only grunt labor to help.

The problem is that while you know what happened, and the detail behind it, the reader has nothing but their knowledge and interpretation of the words, based on their background. That's why it's so important to place the reader into the protagonist's viewpoint, so they react to the scene as the protagonist perceives it. And as a secondary point, in order to provide that information to the reader you're forced to think with the protagonist's brain, and react to that person's needs and imperatives, rather than just the needs of the plot.
I cannot answer for the points you make in your comment because once again I do not know. What I do know is that the real Vincent WAS given this responsibility, and WAS given the rank. I would think that the maintenance and operation of the lights did not require Vincent to necessarily have trained electricians as a crew. My guess is that the main occupation of this crew was to string and connect cables, run errands for fuel and keep the gas topped off in the generators, and, primarily, move the trucks to new positions as needed. Bear in mind that Vincent was not required to MAKE these machines but only to operate and maintain them. I can imagine Vincent having to troubleshoot problems like: replacing connectors which had become damaged as well as burnt out transformers or lamps. These are tasks that can be accomplished by your basic electrician. For the sake of brevity I did not (within the story) discuss the Army's method of qualification for Vincent to hold this post. It goes without saying that they probably checked him out to confirm what he claimed.And this is my point. Look at all the knowledge you bring to bear as you read. You know he's real. You know the detail. But because the reader gets none of it, what they do get is facts without context.

But a reader doesn't come to learn the details of the story, they want to be made to live it—in real time. If, for example, you're writing a love story, and you say the man kissed her it's a fact, and all the reader can respond with is, "Uh-huh." But place the reader into the persona pf the protagonist; make it seem as real as is the film version of the story; involve the reader to the point that they know the protagonist's emotional landscape, to the point of sharing their desires and needs, and as the protagonist leans in for a kiss the reader puckers their lips.

That's entertaining. Facts? Not so much.