Why there is a gay character in my book about World War II

There is very little written about the involvement of gays and lesbians in the 20th century military.   No surprise there.   But, same-gender loving people did serve in America’s military throughout all its wars because they existed throughout all its society.

One of the secondary characters in my book:  Long Way Home: A World War II Novel is a hard-nosed, by-the-book, recruit trainer.   His name is Sergeant Robert Moses, a career soldier, a Negro and a gay man.

In a few chapters of my novel Moses describes his feelings about being a gay man and how it affects his relationship with the Army, his family and his lover.

I talk about this issue on my YouTube channel.    Let me know what you think!

The Gay Theme in Long Way Home

Thanks to the Truth Wins Out website for this amazing graphic!gays_military-749694

1-day Free eBook promo-Major Harriet M. West

A Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAACS) would probably have been dismissed out of hand except it was 1941 and the country was engaged in a World War requiring all of the country’s resources.   By the end of World War II in 1945 there were 265,000 women in uniform, of them more than 6,000 were African-American women.

waddy

Harriet M. West became the first, Black major in the U.S. Women’s  Army Corps on August 21, 1943.  Once promoted to that rank she became an aide to WAAC Director, Oveta Culp Hobby and an advisor to the army on racial issues. West, and Major Charity Adams were the only black women to attain the rank of major during World War II.

In commemoration of Major West’s accomplishment 70 years ago, I am offering my eBook:  Long Way Home:  A World War II Novel  for FREE at the Amazon and Kindle bookstores on August 21, 2013.   Please click on the book cover to access the free offer.  I hope you’ll enjoy the read!

Book Cover

The Book: How it All Began


 

Long Way Home:  A World War II Novel is historical fiction and I have been at work on the project for more than five years.  The idea began in a very informal way after a series of conversations with a friend’s aunt who was a WWII veteran and one of the 150,000 members of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps.   Her memories of life at the Ft. Huachuca Army base  provide the novel’s setting and emotional center.

My father also served in WWII as a Private First Class.  He enlisted in 1943, just shy of 18 years old and worked in the Transportation Corps.   We spoke only a few times about his army service but he recounted fondly the many places he’d seen during his service, among them: New Orleans, San Francisco and Liverpool, England.   He wasn’t one of the “stand out” black soldiers of WWII–like the Tuskegee Airmen or naval hero Dorie Miller–he was just a regular soldier.

After Ken Burns’ produced his iconic The War series (amidst allegations of omitting the contributions of Latino soldiers*) I began to imagine there were many men and women, like “aunt” Lil and my father, who never won Medals of Honor during WWII or even got to the front lines, but whose service was nevertheless honorable.

PFC Sam McGarrah (my father)

The research that was required of the storytelling was daunting and many times I thought I’d bitten off more than I could chew.   Ultimately, doing the research  became an exhilirating treasure hunt.

Long Way Home has romance, conflict, celebration, humor and also detail about the tenor and tone of a segregated Army experience that is a microcosm of the Negro experience in 1940’s America.

 

* Hundreds of thousands of Hispanics served in the military during WWII; and 13 Hispanic servicemen were awarded the Medal of Honor for their WWII service.

Long Way Home is available as an eBook

updated July 2013 (original post April 2011)

Fort Huachuca-Home of the African American Soldier

Note:  This post was corrected on December 4, 2013.  The previous post erroneously listed Ft. Huachuca’s acreage.   In actuality, during WWII the base was more than 71,000 acres and today is some 73,000 acres.   Thanks to  Major General (retired) John M. Custer for the correction.

Two-thirds of my work of fiction, Long Way Home:  A World War II Novel is set on a 73,000-acre, army base in southeast Arizona that still operates today as an army installation.

Fort Huachuca has been significant in the training of black soldiers since the late 19th century and during World War II served the largest concentration of African-American (Negro) soldiers.

SoldiersatHuachuca

Continue reading

Long Way Home


 

It is 1943 and America’s involvement in World War II is at its heights.  The paths of two young dreamers cross on a segregated army base near Tucson, Arizona where they fall in love, fight personal battles and complete their journeys of self discovery.

Book Cover

Nearly one million black soldiers served in WWII and most never faced combat.             Long Way Home imagines the daily lives of these men and women, far away from the front lines, whose struggles and triumphs paved the way for America’s civil rights movement.

Available in the Kindle Bookstore.

Long Way Home: A World War II Novel – An Excerpt

1944

The day after our sweet reunion, we boarded a bus to a beautiful port town in Sonora, Mexico.  For five days we lounged on the beach in the early morning sun watching the local shrimp boats go out with empty nets and return hours later with nets full, inching their way to the wharf where their fresh catch was unloaded for market.  In the afternoons, we explored the beach and the small shops filled with beautiful, handmade crafts painted with brilliant oranges, yellows and blues.  At night, we ate wonderful seafood and rice dishes with olives, peppers and blue corn tortillas at outdoor cafes.  We drank lots of red wine and enjoyed the wharf lights dancing across the black water.

We laughed with the patrons at one or another of the cafes that lined the village; all of us temporary escapees from the war that held countries on several continents in its grip.  We spoke of music and art, we learned of the weather’s impact on the pristine coastline and we showed appreciation for photos of beautiful, brown children and smiling sweethearts with flashing eyes and long, dark hair.

No one held questions in their eyes about two men traveling together and sharing a small apartment with one bed; we were simply accepted.

Excerpt: Long Way Home:  A World War II Novel (formerly Homefront)  

 Cheryl A. Head   (NOW AVAILABLE in the Kindle bookstore)

“You know I’m gay, right?” asks one of my characters.

 

This blog was originally posted in September  2012.

Long Way Home:  A World War II Novel  (formerly Home Front) is a love story recounting the journeys of self-discovery of a young woman and a young man who also happen to be African American soldiers during World War II.

SoldiersinBarracksThey don’t face combat (most Negro soldiers never made it to the front lines of WWII) but their daily existence is one filled with heroic acts and small successes in the midst of demoralizing discrimination.

I was surprised when in the pre-dawn hours of half sleep one of my secondary characters nudged me to say:  “you know I’m gay, right?”  I awoke with a start of ‘what? Oh no!’

The character—Sergeant Moses a tough-as-nails career soldier charged with training Negro recruits—plays a pivotal role in the novel and serves as the reader’s moral compass as he reacts to the second-class treatment of the black soldiers in his care.

All of a sudden, I not only had to deal with how to weave the theme of race relations into my love story, now I was forced to think about what it would mean to be a homosexual soldier in 1943.   Remember this is seventy years before Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  In those days it was more like… don’t dare even think about telling.

I took a couple of days away from the writing to analyze my feelings about this character’s secret and to figure out how my narrative would be affected.

At first I resisted.

This novel is loosely based on my father’s military experience during WWII.  Was this

PFC Sam McGarrah  (my father)

PFC Sam McGarrah (my father)

revelation something about him?  Was I afraid of what I might find?   I also worried about what this theme might mean for the book’s potential audience.  I was already busily balancing a military backdrop with a romance narrative and hoping I wouldn’t lose my connection to the women’s market.  I was also constantly second guessing about how much weight to give to historical fact in the novel.

Then I remembered the wise words of a teacher in a writer’s workshop…only worry about the writing.   So, I let the needs of the story lead me and I started another wave of research.  Here’s a fact I discovered: there is very little fiction or non-fiction (other than memoirs) about gays in the military during World War II and nothing about black gays.

Ultimately, I figured out how to use this new information to enrich the novel

Sgt. Moses’ secret (and its revelation in the novel) is a precipitating incident in the coming-of-age journey of one of my protagonists.  I used my writer’s imagination to conjure the language characters would use within the story line–endearments between lovers; the words of curiosity, sympathy, hatred and acceptance.  Remember, the terms “gay” and “queer” weren’t commonplace in the 1940’s.  Even the term, homosexual was

The Lesson for me:  Characters are almost always right.

Long Way Home:  A World War II Novel is AVAILABLE in the Kindle Bookstore

First, Black WWII Marines Receive Honors

On June 27, 2012, the Montford Point Marines (the first, black WWII marines) were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in a ceremony at the U.S. Visitors Center.

 

Gunnery Sgt. Mack Haynes Sr Montford Point Marine

 Some 20,000 African American Marines received training at Montford Point between 1942 and 1949.   More than 400 of them, mostly in their 80’s and 90’s today got their due.

 

 Read more at:  The Detroit Free Press

http://www.freep.com/article/20120627/NEWS01/120627024/Montford-Pointe-Marines-honored-today