For those interested, you may want to look at the differences between drafts 1 & 2 of Chapter 2. To make the story compelling and a good read, a lot of “telling details” are needed. The details that create the feeling, smells, visuals, and sense of presence of the scene. But, those who know Joe will tell you that he isn’t a great story teller, far too quiet, unassuming, etc., so that getting those details out of him so that they are true and accurate can be a little tough and time consuming.
I drafted the first draft of Chapter 2 knowing that I was missing a bunch of what I needed. I was surprised, stunned, really to find out how much of what I guessed turned out to be right. Such as the direction of the woods that we was escaping too, etc. But, meeting with Joe last Wed night (March 21) I was able to correct a number of errors I made.
Another thing that changed the chapter a fair amount is that I looked up two documents that Joe gave me. These are really remarkable I think. One is the letter from Francois Vermeulen written in 1945 to Art Kinnis which describes Joe’s capture by the German. This letter was never translated until 1988–a testament I think to the fact that the boys returning from war essentially wanted to and needed to get on with their lives and it wasn’t until 40 or so years later, as they approached their later years, that the experiences became truly precious to them and began to occupy their minds and attention. The letter changed Joe’s life because not only it gave details about his capture and the brave men who tried to help him, but also reassured him about the people in the house where his plane crashed.
The emotion of this, the power of dread and fear and sadness that he endured thinking about the fate of those French people and his role in what he thought was their death, became very clear as I talked to Joe on Wednesday.
But, there were also some considerable differences between Joe’s account of the aid he received from the French and what the letter says (a copy of the letter will be included in the book). Francois says that he gave Joe a shirt, cap and sweater to help him hide. Joe says he did not. This is pretty significant because if Joe was wearing French clothes when captured by the Germans the Geneva convention rules would not apply. He could be treated as a spy and summarily executed. Joe has always insisted, unlike every other Allied flyer in the group of 168 that were sent to Buchenwald, he was in uniform when captured. I believe him. In part because giving Joe a sweater in the 80 plus degree humid heat of that August noon wouldn’t make a lot of sense either. At any rate, it is one of those things I can see that historians need to deal with and the choices that need to be made that really determine what history is. It is not always so clear cut.