The story behind THE TAIL GUNNER novel, based on the WWII experiences and collection of Keith B. Lile
March 13, 2014 — At one point in the novel when the main character Sylvie shows her friend Penelope the box of World War II photos and letters she saved, Penelope asks Sylvie to call someone out for her. “I need a World War boyfriend,” she says, pawing through the box to find a suitable fella. She spots a guy in a cap and sweatshirt and declares that he’s the one. “You need one, too,” she says, selecting a strong sultry guy sitting in a windowsill for Sylvie. At first Sylvie refuses to play, but gives in since she knows that Penelope will just bug her until she caves. Sylvie pretends to have some magic powers, only to find that the two fellows in the photos Pen slipped onto the table have, indeed, emerged from their photographs.
The two spirits are StuBoy and Valentine. They offer both important insight and comic relief throughout the story. Who they are in real life, I have no idea. These were just two of the multitude of unidentified men in Dad’s collection.
Other mystery men from the box of photographs became characters in the book as well, providing me with faces to picture as I wrote.
Franco is the gangly bartender who mixed strong drinks and listened to boys’ woes. It’s on the night that Bish is crumpled into the bar with a Cinq Frances note that Franco tries to console him. Bish won’t have it and makes a drunken dash into the hills where he is ultimately found by the signadori and her ewe.
Another character who emerged from the box was little Jimbo. In a previous post, I relayed the outtake of the boys’ Atlantic crossing. While Jimbo doesn’t fare well on that journey, this photo provided me with a face to go with a made-up name.
Other key characters in the story were Smitty and Poe. To Sylvie, Smitty was “Granda Chuck.” To Bish, Smitty was the nickname of a clever chameleon who could blend in anywhere, anytime, a quality that landed him in military intelligence.
Poe, on the other hand, was the quiet poet-pilot character who was handsome enough to snatch any girl who came his way, only he didn’t.
If you know the true identities of any of these men, please post a comment below or email me to add to the knowledge base. Dad noted some names in his diary, but not much more. These are the men I owe this story to. They are the unknown men of the 445th brought to life in the pages of THE TAIL GUNNER.
Next Post: More Mystery Men of the 321st.