Hello! I am the author of a new book about WWII. No, not “just another WWII book,” a book about the war from a new point of view—that of noncombat veterans. If you’ve thought about them at all, you might have heard them referred to as grease monkeys or pencil pushers. That would be wrong. Did you know they represented more than half of all veterans who served in that war? Did you know we won the war as much because of their service and sacrifice behind the front lines as those who fought on the battlefields. The Book

The Trailer

An Excerpt (scroll down to the podcast on my website

Indulge me. AMA and, like the veterans in my book who say they did the best they could 75 years ago. I’ll do my best to answer your questions today beginning at 11:00 am EDT.

Instagram Proof My Home on the Internet

AMA - Ask me what it’s like to have Winston Groom extoll the praises of your book - Ask me what it’s like to be invited to lecture at the New Orleans WWII Museum - Ask me how different writing nonfiction is from fiction (yes, I’ve done both) - Ask me how I promote my book 24x7 (yes, that’s all I do all day long) - Ask me how I reschedule all the promotions I set up before the corona virus struck 24x7, wait, don’t ask me that. It’s too painful

It's now 1:30 pm EDT. Thank you everyone for attending this IAMA session today. I am gratified to hear of your interest in this topic and hope that you will someday read the book. There's so much more there than I can ever tell here. Stay safe and keep reading!

Comments: 256 • Responses: 66  • Date: 

1600cc555 karma

What's it like being named Rona right now?

ronasimmons334 karma

Thankfully, you are not the first person to ask me this! About a week or so ago I saw a post on social media from my niece calling the corona virus the rona virus. I told her to stop, IMMEDIATELY! At the very least, perhaps I won't be asked if there's an H or a D in Rona.

Noclue5559 karma

I've heard it called the roni.

Which makes me think of macaroni. While amusing makes me think they got food poisoning instead.

ronasimmons49 karma

I'll stick with rona and corona. Although, I'd say if we can find some humor today, that's not a bad thing.

Noclue5520 karma

I'd find it a little amusing if Rona the company tried to change their name or actively created a "please don't call it Rona" campaign.

I know people have posted a lot of memes about people not buying corona because they think it's because people are dumb, I largely think corona isn't being bought because like, for years people have been dunking on Corona. Like pre-epidemic I haven't heard anyone say positive things about corona.

ronasimmons19 karma

You must be from Canada. I was amused the first time I saw a Rona store in Toronto. I even took my photo in front of the logo. I hadn't thought about them, but yes, they must be suffering a bit, too.

Deltayquaza180 karma

Were there people where even you were surprised that they existed?

ronasimmons313 karma

Yes. More than one surprise. Of course the graves registration unit I mentioned above. But also I learned of men in the SACO Navy. Almost no one, even WWII veterans know of their existence. They were men who were "embedded" as we say today behind the lines in CHINA! They were weather reporters and radio transmission (and interception), responsible in part for letting the Pacific Fleet know what weather was coming their way. No Weather Channel back then.

Deltayquaza81 karma

Were there stories you couldn't really believe, or was everything credible?

ronasimmons197 karma

All were quite credible, but still surprising. I think one of the things that stood out was how much everyone wanted to "fly." My own father included. He said getting his wings was magical. And it didn't hurt to attract the young women back then. But "almost to a man" the people I spoke with wanted to be pilots. Flying was so new back then and seemed to them adventuresome. But, whether it was flat feet, needing glasses, or in one person's case developing excruciating headaches as planes changed altitude, they could not achieve their dreams. Still they served, doing whatever was asked.

Deltayquaza60 karma

From what I read in your description, those people seemed to have the "boring" jobs. Were they happy with that? Or did they want to do something more... thrilling? (Is thrilling the right word?)

ronasimmons164 karma

Most of those I spoke with said, as I mentioned, they did nothing special. They all refused to be called heroes and said the real heroes never came home. As an author, I had to dig and probe to find the nuggets that they might skip over. One gentleman was a social studies instructor -- and I thought, this one is going to be a challenge -- but we kept talking and I found the New York Times did an article about him because he was the first person the GI's found worthwhile to listen too. He helped them understand why they were going to war and what it meant. And later, he had to speak with Japanese men and women wounded after Hiroshima and Nagasaki and it was his skill as an instructor and knowledge of world events that enabled him to do this.

Deltayquaza42 karma

Was there somebody, who told his story so well, that you were able to really imagine how it must've been like back then?

ronasimmons113 karma

Absolutely. More than one. Of course some were more gifted or natural story tellers than others. One man witnessed the start of D-Day. He was a mechanic in England and was out on guard duty the night before the invasion. He heard the bombers and tow planes and fighters taking off and filling the skies on their way to Normandy. His description still sticks with me.

Deltayquaza25 karma

From which countries did you interview people?

ronasimmons62 karma

I limited my interviews to Americans. I know a similar book could be written from the point of view of any of the other countries involved -- and I had a few requests from people to include them. But, the task was daunting enough considering the research and fact checking that was required to verify stories, flesh out the details, etc. Maybe next time?

waldgnome3 karma

Also on the German side; my grandpa really wanted to become a pilot but got shot in the stomach when he was working at an airport and died a few years later due to complications. It was so weird to learn he had this dream, because i hardly learned anything about him that made him more... tangible? as a person.

ronasimmons2 karma

Yet another young man dreaming of flying. A tragic story. Thank you for sharing and I hope you'll consider reading my book for similar stories.

oggie38919 karma

Was learning of Castners cutthroats just as surprising for you in comparison to those embedded around the Hump and those serving with Mao. Did you look into the 50,000 jamaicans brought to california for he citrus industry, failed, and this segued into german pows being used for the war effort?

ronasimmons20 karma

Ahh, but you bring up so many other possibilities. I had to keep the book to a reasonable size and that meant cutting off at the number I did. And, of course, I wanted to finish it in my lifetime! But thanks for the tip, I'll look into the Jamaicans. There must be a story there.

nerdify42114 karma

My great uncle never left the states, he worked loading supply ships. My uncle was active Navy during the war in Vietnam, but worked in Hawaii deciphering code. My grandfather was a mechanic on the front lines during WW2. I'm glad to see others appreciate these unsung heroes.

What drew you to this topic?

ronasimmons121 karma

After capturing my father's story, I met the daughter of another veteran who told me of her father's story. He served in the graves registration unit in Europe. I had not idea what that meant or how someone with such a horrific assignment could cope with it. I realized at that point how little I knew about the war, and especially about all the people who served in supply, technical roles, medical services, instructors, etc. They deserved to be heard.

Salt_peanuts44 karma

My father in law was a refrigerator and HVAC repairman in the Navy during Vietnam. He has a Vietnam service medal but doesn’t consider himself a Vietnam veteran, because he never set foot on Vietnamese soil. He stayed on various ships offshore working on maintenance. I think he doesn’t want to conflate his service with the horrors that some faced, but his humble service was a required part of the Navy’s effectiveness in the theater.

I appreciate his humility and the humility of many non-combatant veterans, but their service to our country is also important. Thanks, OP, for making them visible.

ronasimmons11 karma

You are most welcome. I am humbled by all those I met, some of whom have become good friends. When they received their complimentary copy of the book, they were overjoyed. One even commented, she wept. Everyone's story has something in it worth telling.

AliMcGraw21 karma

My grandfather was a civil engineer in the Navy, he sat in Washington DC and answered questions like "Can we drive a tank across this rickety bridge to get to Paris?" and he drew up plans for field hospitals and barracks and temporary bridges and things like that, taking into account local materials and what supplies could be shipped in.

Once someone points it out to you, you're like, "whoa, of course someone had to do that part!" but most people never think about it until someone does!

ronasimmons7 karma

My father was a WWII fighter pilot and is responsible for my interest in the topic. I answered this earlier, so I'll just be brief here and say when I decided to write a book on veterans the first one I interviewed was in graves registration and it was that "odd job" that made me think there was fertile, untilled ground for a book on noncombat soldiers.

AJClarkson50 karma

My father was one of these unsung heroes. He had cerebral palsy, so he was obviously 4-F when drafted. He was in university at Johns Hopkins (chemistry major) when a Navy team recruited him and a lot of his fellow STEM students. He ended up doing counter-espionage, which he said sounded a lot more James-Bond than it actually was: basically he sat around in waterfront bars and listened to sailors talk. if any of them said stuff they weren't supposed to be telling, he'd call the Shore Patrol.

He said the coolest thing he did was he "saw every kind of bar fight you can imagine, and a few you couldn't imagine in a million years" (apparently Longshoreman v. Male Ballet Dancer was one for the history books).

He was the only disabled person I have EVER EVER heard of fulfilling any sort of wartime role (outside of those actually disabled by the war itself). Have you heard of any others? Surely there was something that the disabled were suited for?

ETA: side question. He said he was given the "equivalent rank of Ensign," and was able to eat on the Navy's dime (as a Depression-raised hillbilly kid, he was amazed that a full sugar bowl was on the table for every meal in the officer's mess). What does that mean, "equivalent rank" and how does that even work?

ronasimmons39 karma

Now there is a story! Perhaps another worthy group to profile. I didn't encounter anyone with a serious disability -- other than the man who wanted to fly and couldn't because of the headaches caused by a sinus condition. And one man who needed glasses and couldn't fly. Hardly comparable to having an affliction like cerebral palsy. There were over 500 jobs listed by the Army as noncombat positions, everything from baker to saddle and harness maker (as we still had horse mounted troops at the beginning of the war) and, my favorite, pigeoneer. I imagine many disabled could have filled some of these roles, had we been a more enlightened people in the 1940s.

AJClarkson21 karma

Dad said he had the perfect disguise. Who on earth would imagine a "crippled man" (his term) could be working for the military?

ronasimmons19 karma

As I said a bit earlier, humor was such a big part of each of the veteran's service. They attribute it to their survival just as their brothers on the front lines did.

dog_in_the_vent18 karma

What does that mean, "equivalent rank" and how does that even work?

Different branches have different ranks. The Army has privates and corporals, the Air Force has airmen, the Navy has seaman and petty officer, etc.

In order to pay everybody the same and create a sort of standard, each rank is assigned a "pay grade" to go along with it. 1 being the lowest and up from there, with E for enlisted and O for an officer. So a Navy captain (O6) and an Air Force captain (O3) don't get paid the same.

It's also useful for servicemen who might not be familiar with the ranks of other services. They can look up what pay grade a Petty Officer Second Class is and see what the equivalent would be in their branch.

An "equivalent rank" would be used to pay civilian personnel an equivalent to a certain rank of the military, in your example an Ensign (Navy O1). Today we use the GS pay scale for civilians.

ronasimmons6 karma

Thank you for answering this question for me.

dog_in_the_vent5 karma

Thank you for putting the spotlight of appreciation on our support servicemen and women!

ronasimmons2 karma

You are welcome. I thank each and every veteran I wrote about and all those who still have not told their story.

shafq12339 karma

What did the letters reveal? Intial disappointment at being assigned a desk job? Did that attitude change as the war progressed and things got worse?

ronasimmons63 karma

Amazingly, those who ran to the enlistment centers, for the most part simply accepted whatever job they were assigned. As one of the veterans always tells me, America was a different place back then. People were more accepting of circumstances. Most of the men and women I spoke with just wanted to do what they could for their country. Some who were disappointed, later admitted they were foolish to have wanted to be in combat. Especially after seeing the wounded and the dead return.

Chtorrr28 karma

What would you most like to tell us that no one ever asks about?

ronasimmons23 karma

This is a really tough question, thanks for asking it. I suppose one thing was just how unprepared we (America) was for the war. Many people probably think Pearl Harbor happened and we just fought back, but we started with an army that was dwarfed in numbers by the Germans and the Japanese. It took a country to pull together and to do it because it had to be done to create the army, navy, marines, etc. that we eventually brought to the table. And it took very skillful people at the top (Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Marshall, Stimson) to juggle the egos and politics of our own military and government and allied leaders to bring the war to a close.

BeeGravy25 karma

Maybe this is more of a modern day fixation, but if the people not fighting help win the war just as much as those fighting, why do so many lie about their service? Maybe in WWII era people were more proud of what they did do, versus feeling the need to make up stories to seem "cool" to others?

I mean I never encounter modern vets who are motor T or admin, they're all snipers or rangers or SF, at that rate there must be just tens of thousands of snipers and rangers in the Army, and no "boring" jobs.

And not taking away anything the folks not fighting did, you're right, a war cannot be won by infantry alone, but every other job exists solely to support the infantry in their tasks.

ronasimmons6 karma

Thank you, your question obviously sparked a long answer and probably arguments on both sides. I think the veterans I spoke to, who were not on the front lines, felt they had nothing to say or that the public wasn't interested (in large part because the public didn't understand their roles). It is a shame, and I would agree, a more modern day practice of exaggerating what someone did. I even had one veteran contact me after we finished talking to make sure that I was NOT painting him out to be a hero!

polysterene12 karma

Hi Rona, thanks for this IAM. After reading your post I would be very intrigued to read your book and am going to head over to your podcast after this post as it will be nice to have something intriguing and distracting from the world we are in right now.

My grandfather worked in the Dutch resistance during Nazi occupied Holland. He hid on a barn roof for a week to evade capture. He did not speak English very well and was unable to tell me many stories when I was a child. When he was elderly he got dimentia and it seems that was the time he would flash back to the war and mumble something to my grandmother in Dutch I would ask her to interpret. When my grandparents passed, I , along with my mother were the ones tasked with classifying and digitizing documents and photos. One of the documents strongly looks like his "draft letter"

Is a draft letter something you would recognize to see?

I am very strongly interested in WW2 and the every day people whom had to work to keep it afloat. From the way factories were changed to accepting women workers as many men were off at war.

What commonalities do you see in the rise of corona virus and war measures act being put in place in cites that is familiar to the past of our veterans? After the research you have conducted, what were some of the most resourceful ways from home, that the "pencil pushers" came up with to help the troops?

I am going to request your book be put into our Public Libraries. Thank you for your time and research.

ronasimmons3 karma

This is a great story -- there are so many yet told. I hope you discover more. A draft letter is fairly common and standard to some extent. You can look at others on sources like ancestry.com and see if yours is similar. Regarding commonalities -- one of the veterans keeps repeating that America was a different time and place back then. If the government said we need people to enlist, they did, they even did without being asked (yes, I know that is a general statement and some of the nurses didn't want to go because they would make less than they made in private practice), but just because the government says do something today, I am not at all sure people would just "obey," nor that they should. The noncombat veterans I focused on were almost all sent overseas so I can't answer your question. But families at home did what they could with less food and luxuries. Thank you for suggesting the book to your local library. I appreciate your interest.

JuniorSamples54911 karma

Hi Rona! Thank you for writing about this and for doing an AMA! I am a Marine veteran from the early 90's and I can recall a statistic about my particular time in service. Using round numbers, for every 10 basic infantry Marines, it took about 50 other Marines to support them. Everything from pay, supply, food, weapons and ammo, communication gear, etc. But I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. My question is this - how did you determine what era you wanted to research and write about? Why WWII versus say, Korea, Vietnam, Gulf War, etc? Thank you!

ronasimmons9 karma

I doubt we will ever exhaust tales of WWII, but no doubt interest will at some point in decades to come fade. It is a natural thing to have the most interest in events that are not so distant, ones we can almost touch and so Korea, Vietnam and the others will get their due.

ronasimmons9 karma

My father was a WWII fighter pilot so I owe my interest in the era to him. I was lucky that he agreed (fifty years after the war, when I finally asked him to) to talk about his experience. He was of course a combat pilot accompanied or escorted bombers from North Africa to Sicily and Italy and later even farther into Europe. Still, he said he didn't do anything special.

TheHarridan11 karma

This sounds fascinating! It sounds like combat roles are sort of considered at the top of the hierarchy of respect, which makes sense (you especially mention flying in another response), but did you get the impression that some of the non-combat roles looked up to or down at each other?

And second question, if you would: do you think a hotdog counts as a type of sandwich?

ronasimmons16 karma

To your second question. Webster's says: a sandwich is an item of food consisting of two pieces of bread with meat, cheese, or other filling between them, eaten as a light meal. I suppose you could argue that a hot dog bun is just one piece of bread. So there you have it.

ronasimmons15 karma

To your first question, in fact, I wanted to know and I asked (in a polite way) how the noncombat veterans were perceived by their peers. Yes there are the derogatory statements and monikers (although I find these are more often from contemporary or more modern wars than WWII). At the time, the combat veterans were generally grateful for the services the men and women behind the lines provided. Hot food, warm blankets, a plane that was in tip-top shape, a ship that was sent across the ocean safely tucked between other ships rather than on their own ... And one veteran said, they loved us, we had all the supplies (including cigarettes and whiskey).

bryanhomey111 karma

Why does the W.A.S.P (Woman Air Service Pilots) keep going in and out of favor with the Army and USAF? First, they were allowed to be buried at Arlington and then rejected. Now, I'm not sure where they land. They were an integral part of the war effort, and we would not have won the war without them.

ronasimmons11 karma

The WASPs seem to be in favor now, I suppose in part with the focus on women's stories and recognizing the part women played in the war. As I looked for different roles to write about, I drew my boundaries wide -- including, for instance, a member of the Army Corps of Engineers who worked at Oak Ridge where the atomic bomb was being developed. Officially part of the army, although some would say not. Same for the merchant mariners who have been fighting to this day for recognition.

ronasimmons7 karma

Also, as the veterans often told me, "the army knows best." They have their rules and they change their rules, often. It was perplexing to them at the time and I don't suppose it will ever change.

gunslayerjj7 karma

Hey Ms Simmons! Do you read other genres of books apart from history fiction and war non fiction? And if so, what are some of your favourite reads?

ronasimmons9 karma

Yes, indeed. I read widely. In fact, a few years ago I found a list from a prominent source of 100 books to read in a lifetime (and then I bought "1,000 books to read before you die") and I am making my way through both of them. Everything from childrens' books to science fiction to historical fiction and nonfiction.

ronasimmons8 karma

I do have my favorites too, of course. My top ten includes the wonderful southern writer Terry Kay, two books by Bill Bryson, Margaret Atwood (Cat's Eye not The Handmaid's Tale), Capote, and Thomas Wolfe. and, and, and ....

Guy_In_Florida7 karma

Did you interview B17 mechanics? I was a Phantom mech and it was very hard work with long hours. I used to think what it would have been like to have been a mech in 1944. 1000 plane formations and and 400 enemy defenders blowing holes in your planes. How insanely hard did those guys work?

ronasimmons11 karma

Yes I did. One of the veterans was a B-17 mechanic in England. He had wanted to fly but when he found he could not, he vowed that he would do his job such that his plane (and he considered it HIS plane) would never fail the flight crew for a mechanical failure.

ronasimmons10 karma

The mechanics were some of the most interesting (although ask me another day and I'll say it was someone else's story the is the most interesting). They worked all night, under lights, in rain and sleet and snow as they say. The bombers took off in the very early morning and came back in the late afternoon and had to be turned around to go back out as quickly as possible. I learned that they build themselves shanties out of boxes so they could grab a few minutes of sleep right next to their planes.

Guy_In_Florida2 karma

Thank you, can't wait to read this. I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall during some of these conversations. I grew up among the greatest generation. Mine are long gone now. I miss them.

ronasimmons5 karma

The conversations were incredible, and as I have said, mostly to see how grateful these men and women were to speak of their experiences -- never thinking anyone was interested. I think it is another way of staying close to my father. I haven't stopped talking to veterans either, I stop and ask anyone I see wearing a dark blue baseball-style cap with gold lettering whether on the street or in the grocery. I encourage you to do the same. You'll see their eyes light up. And, I would be delighted if you would read the book and tell me what you think.

Bhawk-116 karma

My grandmother was a WAVE. Does this book talk about them?

ronasimmons9 karma

It does. One of my favorites (have I just about called each of them my favorite by now) is that of a woman who joined and served in one of the first classes for WAVES at Smith College. She is 101 years old today with a sharp mind and a lovely honey-toned voice. She was delighted when I told her she would be the centerfold on the cover of the book. She has a great story.

count_frightenstein5 karma

Are you planning on an audiobook? I'm interested in all aspects of WWII and would like to listen to it. Sounds really interesting.

ronasimmons7 karma

I am toying with the idea of an audio book. I did a podcast of the first page or so of the book (it's on my website and a link is included in the introduction to this reddit session). Audio books sound easy but they actually involve a lot of work. But, then, if we are sequestered for much longer, I might choose to do one.

Norgeroff5 karma

What color is your toothbrush?

ronasimmons5 karma

I don't think I am supposed to answer a question with a question, or I would say which one? So, I'll just say white, but the manufacturer probably says "pearl."

Norgeroff1 karma

Oki, you can tell me the other ones too if you'd like, anyways, thank you :)

ronasimmons3 karma

I'd have to go look, to be sure, but pink I am sure is one. Isn't that what all women should have?

Norgeroff1 karma

I dont know about that, i think anylne can have whatever color they'd like, I mean I'm an 18 year old man and I have a pink one so

ronasimmons5 karma

Yes, you see, it takes the new generation to realize pink is not just for women. Good for you!

PinkLemonade155 karma

How do you stay motivated writing and researching for history? I am currently writing a 25 page paper for school and it just seems so daunting

ronasimmons6 karma

Of course I had the veteran speaking to me across their dining room table in many cases or a son or daughter who was sharing family stories, and their father or mother's letters or memoir, so I felt a responsibility to each of them to make sure their words were heard. I tell everyone, go find a veteran, whether a relative or neighbor or a complete stranger and ask them about their experience -- it doesn't have to be about WWII, but about any period you are writing (assuming it is within our lifetimes) and make the story personal. Find a connection with your life today.

not_salt5 karma

Which was your favourite story out of all the ones you documented? (Hope you're staying safe at home too!!)

ronasimmons11 karma

Well of course you know I can't pick just one! I say it's like Thomas Wolfe's Sophie's Choice. How do you pick your favorite from among your children. So, I leave it up to the readers ... those who had a father or mother who flew planes will pick those stories, those who had a relative who was a medic or nurse will pick those. Something for everyone I suppose.

ronasimmons7 karma

And yes, the second part of your question. If I have to be home at least I can engage with people through forums like this.

funnymatt5 karma

My father was a conscientious objector who enlisted in the Army Air Corps (which later became the Air Force) and served as a weather forecaster in Italy during the war. Thank you for highlighting the work of veterans like him. He passed away 5 years ago- how many of these veterans are left?

ronasimmons5 karma

According to the Veterans Administration there are less than 400,000 WWII veterans alive today (out of a total of 16 million who served in uniform). Fewer and fewer every day. If the survival rate is evenly distributed then, 200,000 noncombat and 200,000 combat. There were about 25,000 conscientious objectors who served in noncombat roles -- so perhaps 12,000 of them left.

Steelzsar934 karma

Thank you for your work in making sure these stories are never lost to the sands of time! Given that you've mentioned lecturing in Orleans in your initial description, what was it like? What was your greatest sensory memory of that place? Where would be the best space to lecture in?

ronasimmons7 karma

The New Orleans National WWII Museum lecture is an upcoming event (scheduled for April 22) and subject to delay depending how well we are able to contain the corona virus. I visited the museum a year or so ago and was struck by its enormity and its beauty. Perhaps the best part was meeting another couple of veterans in the lobby of the ticket hall. The museum does hold some lectures in the main hall in the evening after museum hours. My lecture will be at noon in a designated lecture facility. I am also scheduled to lecture at the Savannah Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force in June and working now to reschedule an event at the Pacific War Museum in San Antonio.

GrasponReality4 karma

My dad was in the signal corps during WWII. He went in in June of 1941 for what he thought would be a year of active duty... He didn't get out until August of 1946.

Officially he was a cryptographic training officer at Ft Monmouth. Whatever work he did was classified and took to his grave with him. While officially he had a desk job he had numerous service connected injuries. We have his military medical records and there are no treatment records for any of the service connected injuries he was discharged with. His service records were destroyed along with so many of the ones from WWII army vets. He would occasionally have terrible nightmares and late in life he had a stroke and started having waking flashbacks that were consistent with PTSD.

I tried making a request under the freedom of information act to the Department of the Army to see if it was possible to find any specific reports mentioning him but that was a year ago and I never got a response. Do you have any suggestions on how I could find out what he really did in the war?

ronasimmons4 karma

There ought to be at least basic information available. I would try again, (I heard many of the records were lost in a fire at the St. Louis archive, but then later that records were found elsewhere). Have you tried ancestry.com or any of the other family history sites? They usually can produce a draft card or similar information.
You might have to wait until we are past the current crisis to find someone who can help. You might also go to the signal corps directly. If all else fails get in touch with me, I might be able to help.

zdog2343 karma

How have the merchant marines who served pre-pearl harbor been treated? Have they historically been included in casualty tallies, memorials etc.?

ronasimmons7 karma

I was gratified to see that when I visited the National Museum of WWII in New Orleans, the merchant marines have an exhibit all to themselves.

ronasimmons7 karma

The US Merchant Marines was not an "official" branch of the armed services during WWII despite its official sounding name. Many of the young men who signed up did so not worrying which branch of service they were signing up for, they may have wanted to serve at sea or just serve. They suffered the highest mortality rate of any of the services. One in 25 were killed. Facts and figures about the war are reported everywhere and different numbers are often cited for just about anything anyone wants to know. Generally, I would say the merchant marine casualties are included, but you have to look at the source and its makeup.

mimaky3 karma

Your book is on my short list of works to get to. As a PhD candidate in US history, I am incredibly interested in your source base. What was your research process like? What were some of the most valuable primary sources with which you worked?

ronasimmons3 karma

As an author, research is my middle name. It is such an integral part of telling any story -- although I am sure there are some who can just sit down and write. My primary sources were, of course, the conversations with the veterans themselves and reading their memoirs, journals, and letters as well as talking to a veteran's son or daughter and hearing "their side" of the story. I've also consulted numerous maps and "Google Earth" type photos, watched recorded veterans' stories, government produced videos as well as mechanic training videos, bomber flight videos, and visited WWII museums and conferences to look at planes and ships and vehicles "firsthand." The US Army's Green Books and the US Army Air Forces' Men and Planes were invaluable secondary sources.

ronasimmons2 karma

My book contains a bibliography of key sources. So, when you do get a chance to get the book, there are some sources you may want to investigate.

kiwimongoose3 karma

There must be a wide variety of non-combat roles during WWII. How did you go about finding the different types of jobs and organizing them for your book? Are there any non combat veteran roles that you were unable to find sources for or you would like to explore more?

My grandfather was a POW translator stationed in Nebraska and had lots of interesting stories (and ended up becoming lifelong friends with some of the prisoners)! It’s not a topic I have seen written about in the past.

ronasimmons3 karma

My research indicates there were 500 different noncombat positions in the army alone, so there is no question that there are more untold stories out there. I tried to find some of the more interesting ones and ones that made a story when they were connected -- as you'll see if you read the book. I have thought about the POW angle, having learned that there were POW camps in this country in all but 4 of our states. I have subsequently found there are many books on the POWs but whether they covered translators or not, I can't say.

SchleppyJ43 karma

What is the most interesting thing you've learned?

What about the most surprising?

ronasimmons15 karma

The most interesting, perhaps because it was the thing I knew the least about and could not imagine doing, was the job done by the graves registration unit. They did a horrific job, day in and day out, collecting the fallen, identifying the remains and then giving them the respectful burial they deserved. There were over 300 cemeteries in Europe at the end of the war. Later the fallen would be disinterred and either repatriated or moved to one of two dozen or so existing cemeteries.

ronasimmons11 karma

The most surprising. Perhaps because I hadn't thought about it, but on D-Day the merchant mariners who were supplying our troops didn't just drop supplies, they actually went back and forth between Normandy and England, the veteran I wrote about did this six times that day.

Linguiste3 karma

Interesting topic. My great grandfather was stationed in the Aleutian Islands during WWII and had some interesting stories!

How did you structure the book? Was it an organic process based on the interviews you collected or did you have an outline going in?

ronasimmons5 karma

Structure was a key component of writing the book and something that a friend and advisor (Jonathan Jordan, a best selling author with a few marvelous books on WWII to his credit) advised me to think about going into the project. I decided to tell the story as if I were following a recruit into the military, so I start with tales of veterans who had a hand in instructing young recruits, then I move on to the effort it took to transport the soldiers and sailors to their stations, etc etc. Each book of course will dictate its own structure.

ryandinho143 karma

Hi Rona,

Thanks for shining light on an important but often neglected part of history. Many people point to George Marshall as the perfect example of how important noncombat roles were in the war. Marshall was Chief of Staff of the Army, but never saw combat once in his career. He was just a masterful organizational leader. Does your book contain any new or oft-missed information on Marshall? Or does it focus more on "entry level" positions?

ronasimmons2 karma

Have you read Jonathan Jordan's American Warlords? There is quite a bit of information on Marshall and engagingly written.

Thedudetim3 karma

My grandfather was a train engineer on the Red Ball express in Europe. He passed when I was 4 and never had any stories relayed to me.Have you spoken to any veterans who may have been part of the Red Ball Express?

ronasimmons3 karma

I did not speak with anyone from the Red Ball express, but did talk with three people who served in Patton's command, but further back behind the lines. All of the veterans' contacts with Patton or Eisenhower were at the top of their stories. Mostly humorous encounters.

flobota2 karma

Thanks for bringing a light to these stories. I am a producer for a large history YouTube channel and quantitatively it seems people simply don't care for non-combat stories in military history.

How do you try to get people interested in these stories?

ronasimmons2 karma

There is a bias for explosions and death defying feats of courage, but plenty of room too for understanding more about the war. I think you have to approach it from the idea that there is something to be learned (what happened to the fallen after a battle, why did we suffer so many lost ships and have so many bodies wash up on our shores before we started dimming lights and creating convoys) and then make it personal. Using the veteran's own words and trying to find a human element to emphasize.

justinroark882 karma

Do you get sick of the Rona jokes?

ronasimmons5 karma

Only after today when five or six people asked me if I had ever heard about the rona virus. Of course, if my book goes viral because of it, then I will be delighted.

FarleyFinster2 karma

I have a related degree and have many times considered writing a book or twelve.

Where do you find the time when you have other daily responsibilities and no backers or financial support. When you're the support?

How do you keep track of or [re-]find sources?

How do you find interviewees and sources beyond other over-quoted and -referenced books & films, well-tapped museums, accidental thrift shop & bookstore finds, and accidental nursing home meetings?

How do you find a publisher willing to even glance at the first few pages. Even Penguin, Yale, and Oxford (despite my willingness to use their commas! ) are more than likely to reject an edited manuscript sent on spec, unseen.

I'm looking forward to having a look, and thanks for any responses, even if only via messaging.

ronasimmons2 karma

Luckily I retired before undertaking writing full time. But, now that I have, I like to think I would have MADE time to write as it is so personally rewarding. Having said that, I am very judicious with what I spend money on regarding writing. At least with my interests (WWII and related topics) there is an overwhelming amount of research that a writer can explore at no cost. And even things like Google Earth or the like can transport the writer to a place and allow them to look around. Managing sources is a major effort. When I find something I want to use I copy the link if it is on line or the page and a full citation for the book, like you would for a bibliography and I keep this online sorted by topic. Before I was as diligent, I knew I had seen something but just couldn't find it again. Sources are not so hard to find, you mention a number of them, and I often found myself looking at the bibliography or footnotes in some previously published book. It's like unwinding a ball of yarn, pull one string and another pops up. Most major publishers only review manuscripts sent through an agent, there is no point sending one to them. If Penguin or the like is your goal you MUST have an agent. You can find who takes manuscripts directly from authors through sources like Poets and Writers and others that maintain such lists. I hope you will read why book, it may answer a lot of your questions about writing a similar one.

NerdyNinjaAssassin2 karma

I think I’ll take one of your suggestions since I’m curious and an aspiring author myself. What is the difference between writing fiction and nonfiction?

ronasimmons3 karma

With fiction you have a great deal more freedom than with nonfiction. You can take the story anywhere you want it to go and not worry about the facts. Take the television series The Man in the High Castle -- Germany and Japan won the war. And, I suppose, there is some rendition these days where zombies and aliens participate in Normandy. Like nonfiction, however, to be credible in the storytelling there is still considerable research to be done. You just don't have to have footnotes. The interesting thing to me about nonfiction is just the opposite I suppose, you must weave a story into the facts, otherwise it's just an encyclopedia. With my book I wrapped the 19 different stories into the story of the war and then connected the dots between them, pointing out similarities and differences.

Vandechoz2 karma

you mention sacrifice, what are some examples of that? I can imagine some very scary industrial accidents, especially when it comes to war machinery

ronasimmons3 karma

All of those who served sacrificed something. All gave their time and energy and a year or more away from their families, in a time when they had little means to get news from home. One of the men flew on over a thousand flights in Asia to deliver supplies, often coming under fire. His plane crashed near the end and he was sent home but suffered battle fatigue or what we call PTSD today. It took him years to recover.

SchleppyJ42 karma

Will you do anything special on the day the book is released?

ronasimmons3 karma

The answer to that is of course, yes. I was fortunate that my publisher Kent State University Press made books available for a "pre-official-launch-event" on March 7. It was held at the Dahlonega Literary Festival here in Georgia and was a great success. We sold out of all the books and a dozen or so more were put on order. And we had "bubbly." As the event was held in a church facility, we couldn't pour the real stuff. So next week on April 7, the official day, I will pour a glass of real bubbly.

jfresh212 karma

Rona... Like COrona?

ronasimmons1 karma

Let's see, I think that makes the sixth reference, today. Which name would help sell books better?

xubax1 karma

What was the proportion of non combat to combat troops in the different branches?

ronasimmons2 karma

That's a hard question to answer. I only found good statistics for the military as a whole ... and even then the numbers vary, from 60-70% noncombat to 50% noncombat, so generally I use "over half" and feel that is accurate. I did actually count the number of noncombat positions on a list of army positions and there were over 500. I did not find ready numbers by branch. But now that you ask, I think I'll go look!

DeAlphaBoss1 karma

How does the research process go for you? How do you find and contact these veterans and what’s it like to interview them? If you can say, how long does it take to go from research to outline to draft to book, if that’s the process you go through?

ronasimmons2 karma

Research is an easy though time consuming process (at least for me). I love nothing more than tracking down a statistic I need no matter how deeply it is buried. I found the veterans mostly through word of mouth in my network. One person knew someone who knew someone else .... I started the book in 2016 and finished it in 2019, so about 3 years. Some topics take much longer, but I'd say 3 years is a good average.

UltimateRobot80001 karma

Did you have any ancestors who were Veterans of WWII?

ronasimmons3 karma

Yes, my father (I suppose that counts as a near ancestor) was a WWII fighter pilot, flying in North Africa and escorting bombers to Europe. And my grandfather (definitely an ancestor) was a WWI veteran. I haven't found anyone further back than him.

TrueFigure11 karma

Is Gary Oldman the greatest actor ever?

ronasimmons2 karma

Give me John Wayne or Jimmy Stewart in a WWII flick any day.

formu1a1-3 karma

we won the war? lol

ronasimmons3 karma

Last I checked, the Americans and our allies triumphed. Nevertheless, I would definitely say the Russians played a major role in the outcome.