Meet Georgette Newton, a WWII Soldier

My Novel

One of the two, key protagonists in my novel Long Way Home:  A World War II Novel is Georgette Lillian Newton a twenty-one year old, North Carolina farm girl who leaves home to become one of only about 6,000 African American members of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAACS).LWH book cover

 

Georgette’s future has been mapped out for her by family traditions and expectations.  She has a boyfriend, Boone, who she is expected to marry, and a family legacy she has to uphold.  But Georgette is a dreamer. She longs to move to a big city and lead a sophisticated life like the ones illustrated in all the magazines of the 1940’s: Look, Life, and The Saturday Evening Post. So, despite her parents’ (and Boone’s) objections, she joins the army after a brief stay at a teacher’s college.

In her new life, Private First Class, Georgette Newton is a personnel clerk with access to the majority of the files at the Fort Huachuca Army Base.  She is meeting new people, and has a new routine.   She feels like an independent woman for the first time in her life, and it suits her.

Maj. Charity E. Adams and Cpt. Abbie N. Campbell inspect women of the 6888th Central Postal Battalion

Maj. Charity E. Adams and Cpt. Abbie N. Campbell inspect women of the 6888th Central Postal Battalion

Georgette is adventurous, head strong, smart and has high standards for herself and those around her.  In Long Way Home, she describes her feelings with through the novel’s first-person point of view, which includes letters to home.

There are a number of interesting memoirs and other non-fiction accounts of the day-to-day lives of Negro soldiers in World War II, but Long Way Home is the first novel that uses the lives of these soldiers, far away from the battlefield, as the backdrop to a story about romance and coming of age.  Long Way Home: A World War II Novel is available as an eBook in the Kindle store.

A Bit About the History of the WAACS

The WAACS played an integral and successful role in America’s military presence during World War II, but the path to their involvement was a bumpy one.  Public opinion about female soldiers was initially negative and the original bill authorizing the WAACS failed in Congress.  It was not until after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 that American military leadership saw the wisdom of adding women as new personnel in the war effort.

The law activating the WAACS was passed in May 1942 “for the purpose of making available to the national defense the knowledge, skill, and special training of the women of the nation.”  A recruitment goal of 25,000 was established, but enrollment quickly eclipsed that goal and a final ceiling of 150,000 was authorized by Secretary of the War Henry L. Stimson.

The first Director of the WAACS (later shortened to WACS when the corps traded its auxiliary status for a permanent one) was Oveta Culp Hobby, a former War Department employee.  Hobby’s general idea for the WAACS was that they be trained as non-combatants to take on positions that would free a male soldier for battle.  Hobby  went on to become the first U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare.

Oveta Culp Hobby

Colonel, Oveta Culp Hobby

Women enlistees had to be U.S. citizens, 21-45 years of age with no dependents, at least 5 feet tall weighing 100 pounds or more, and have the equivalent of a high school education.  They worked at army facilities throughout the country including the Pentagon as clerks, cryptographers, in motor pools, as mechanics, in the signal corps, in ordnance, air traffic control and in postal units.

On July 20, 1942, 440 women began officer candidate training* at Fort Des Moines (over 35,000 women applied for the training).  The four-week basic training of the first enlisted women began in August.   * Forty black women trained as officers were placed in a separate platoon.  They attended classes and ate with the white officer candidates, but base facilities were segregated. Continue reading

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

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