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Feb. 1, 2023

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Three books by Clark County authors portray sacrifices of military service

Writers turn personal experience, research into inspirational stories of love, duty and history

By , Columbian staff writer, and
, Columbian Features Editor
Published:
8 Photos
"They Called Him Marvin" by Roger Stark (Contributed by Roger Stark from "They Called Him Marvin")
"They Called Him Marvin" by Roger Stark (Contributed by Roger Stark from "They Called Him Marvin") Photo Gallery

They Called Him Marvin

Washougal author Roger Stark

The joys of love and the horrors of war are on equally intense display in “They Called Him Marvin,” a true tale that’s been imaginatively fleshed out by Washougal author Roger Stark.

The book, $19.99, is available at Birdhouse Books and Vintage Books in Vancouver.

Stark said he bumped into Marvin Sherman, a retired Vancouver veterinarian, about a decade ago at a dinner party, and he was inspired by Sherman’s heartfelt and gripping story about the pilot father he never knew.

Stark, the author of books on addiction and recovery, got Sherman’s blessing to research and write the story. It became an eight-year project involving research trips to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and even to Japan.

Marvin Sherman’s father, Dean Sherman, signed up with the U.S. Army Air Corps after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Dean married his childhood sweetheart in Salt Lake City. Connie Sherman was pregnant with Marvin by the time Dean was sent to the Pacific.

Stationed in India and then the Mariana Islands, Dean Sherman was the commander of a B-29 Superfortress bomber whose initial mission was attacking Japanese industrial and military targets. But as the war dragged on, B-29 squadrons firebombed civilian populations too.

“I was shocked to learn what we did over there, as a country,” Stark said. “It’s hard to rationalize. But I tried to get inside the heads of the decision-makers who just wanted to get the war over.”

To get into his many characters’ heads, Stark took creative writing workshops and sought feedback. He knew “They Called Him Marvin” must be a work of creative nonfiction — based upon facts and evidence, but also dramatizing people’s thoughts, feelings and dialogue as if they were characters in a novel.

That even includes the vivid horrors endured by the firefighting Kyosho family and other Tokyo residents who fled or were burned alive by the bombs dropped by American B-29s. They are composite characters that Stark created to balance his narrative, he said.

“I felt it was very important to explain the Japanese context and the Japanese experience,” Stark said.

While it’s a deadly serious work, the multifaceted “They Called Him Marvin” also teems with love and joy. Marvin Sherman was able to supply the long-distance letters of Dean and Connie Sherman, and Stark insisted on including many in the book — because they’re so zesty and honest about love, separation and longing, he said.

“I felt strongly that this is their story,” he said.

Pull the Chocks, I’m Launching

Ret. Maj. Gen. David E.B. Ward of Yacolt-Amboy area

Ret. Maj. Gen. David E.B. Ward, 84, who lives in the Yacolt-Amboy area, relays tales from the first three decades of his life in “Pull the Chocks, I’m Launching.”

“I would tell people stories, and they kept saying, ‘You need to write a book,’ ” Ward said. “So, finally, I started writing a book. The stories multiplied to the point that this book is the first of a trilogy.”

The book is available by special order from Vintage Books in Vancouver ($25.50 for paperback, or $42.50 for hardback), as well on Amazon.

Ward completed Air Force pilot training in 1962. His first assignment was as a T-33 jet pilot training instructor.

After leaving active duty in 1967, Ward joined the Oregon Air National Guard as an instructor and combat fighter pilot. He later commanded the 142nd Fighter Wing based at the Portland Air National Guard Base. His final post before he retired after 36 years of military service was as the Air National Guard’s special assistant to the commander of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe.

“The first time I saw jet fighters grace the skies in Anchorage, Alaska, I dreamed of becoming a fighter pilot. I as 12 years old and it was during the Korean War,” he wrote in the prologue to his book.

He moved often in childhood, which prepared him for military life.

He spent formative summers on his grandparents’ ranch in Montana, which also housed German POWs during World War II.

“I rode a horse at full gallop when I was 5 years old,” he said.

He details his entry into military service, a medical condition that nearly grounded him for good in 1963, his recovery, and his transition to the Oregon Air National Guard.

“The title, ‘Pull the Chocks, I’m Launching’ — it’s kind of a metaphor to be inspirational to younger people or anybody. Get obstacles out of your way and live your dream to the best you are able to. That’s the message I’m trying to convey in the book,” Ward said.

“You can have a lot of interesting experiences if you just keep moving on.”

‘When Your Daddy’s a Soldier’

Camas author Gretchen Brandenburg McLellan

When military parents are called up to serve, Camas author Gretchen Brandenburg McLellan said, their children wind up serving too.

Those burdened children are the focus of McLellan’s new book, “When Your Daddy’s a Soldier.”

“It has been a lifelong goal of mine to represent military kids in print,” McLellan said. “We are a silent and large subculture of American society.”

McLellan grew up an Army brat plenty familiar with fears and worries about her soldier father, she said. When the Iraq War broke out in 2003, she realized she was just as concerned about military children as she was about their parents.

“My heart ached for the kids who were having to say goodbye to their mothers and fathers,” she said.

McLellan penned “When Your Daddy’s a Soldier” so military families could recognize themselves and explore their difficult emotions in print and pictures, she said. After a long, twisted journey, the short book is out at last. It features gentle, cozy illustrations of home life by E.G. Keller.

While publisher Penguin Random House is aiming the book at readers ages 4 through 8, it’s appropriate for the whole military family, as well as others who want to glimpse that difficult experience, McLellan said.

While some portrayals of military families do exist in print, McLellan said, they tend to play up the pride-and-patriotism angle while skipping over young children’s real anxieties.

To refresh her own childhood experiences and emotions, McLellan paid numerous visits to gatherings and events for children of deployed parents. She was delighted to see how much more support children enjoy today — from summer camps to therapy dogs — but their essential insecurities and fears remain, she said.

That’s true of the whole family, as in this complicated passage:

“When your daddy’s a soldier far away at war, your mama’s not the same. Sometimes it seems like she’s gone, too. Sometimes you have to jump up and down before she even knows you’re talking. Sometimes she expects you to be all grown up, and others, she acts like you’re a baby again.”

The book ($17.99) is widely available at bookstores, McLellan said. A second version of the same book, called “When Your Mommy’s a Soldier,” should also be available soon.

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