Shadows Of War

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Shadows of War tells the story of World War II as few Americans know it.

In the mid-1930s a high school history teacher inspires a student to look beyond his small hometown. He becomes a Foreign Service officer, and they then anchor a World War II story that provides perspectives little known to Americans. A Romanian princess cares for more than 3,000 orphans and rescues more than 1,000 downed American flyers - and tussles with the SS to keep the POWs from their control at ...

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Shadows of War

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Shadows of War tells the story of World War II as few Americans know it.

In the mid-1930s a high school history teacher inspires a student to look beyond his small hometown. He becomes a Foreign Service officer, and they then anchor a World War II story that provides perspectives little known to Americans. A Romanian princess cares for more than 3,000 orphans and rescues more than 1,000 downed American flyers - and tussles with the SS to keep the POWs from their control at considerable risk to herself. On air raids over Romania, American crews must fly 1,200 miles - on creatively named planes such as Wingo-Wango and Jersey Bounce - at just 50 feet off the "deck" to launch attacks on the stoutly defended oil refineries at Ploesti. In Singapore and Malaysia a mild-mannered father of seven becomes a resistance leader after the Japanese invasion, and four gutsy nuns who serve as nurses try to stay a step ahead of the brutal conquerors.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781452094342
  • Publisher: AuthorHouse
  • Publication date: 10/30/2010
  • Pages: 424
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Shadows of War

By Mike Johnson


Copyright © 2010 Mike Johnson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4520-9434-2

Chapter One

"Where was he killed?"

"In Belleau Wood," Marie Hughes replied softly after a slight pause, eyes downcast. "He was with the Fourth Marine Brigade. They were attached to the Army's Second Infantry Division. They stopped the Germans on the road to Paris. We lost almost ten thousand men in that battle. Nearly two thousand killed, the rest wounded. Marines and soldiers." She sighed deeply. "The battle lasted nearly three weeks."

In fact, that crucial battle raged from June 6-26, 1918. It earned the Marines the sobriquet Devil Dogs. A battlefield report transmitted on June 26 read: "Woods now U.S. Marine Corps entirely."

"Do you know how?" Joe Barton asked in a near whisper.

"Not really. But knowing what I know about World War One and Belleau Wood, probably machine gun fire. At close range. Perhaps by rifle or shrapnel from a mortar. Not likely by falling bombs. Airplane pilots tossed down the occasional bomb, but they mostly fired machine guns and flew reconnaissance. To take Belleau Wood our Marines had to charge across a wheat field. There was no cover and the Germans cut loose with machine guns." Her head shook. "It was sheer incompetence by senior officers."

Marie Hughes knew plenty about World War I. She also knew much about all the wars in which Americans had fought, died and been maimed. Miss Hughes taught American history at Shelby High School from which she graduated in 1908. That was 25 years before her conversation with Joe Barton that was taking place in early November 1933. In between, she had earned a bachelor's degree at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware and then returned to Shelby to begin a teaching career that would end 47 years later when she retired in 1960. Afterward she substitute taught for several more years before dying in 1974 at age 83.

Joe was a strapping 17-year-old who stood six feet tall and weighed 185 pounds made hard through a daily exercise regimen that included 200 push-ups and 50 chin-ups. He wasn't Hollywood handsome, but two facial flaws lent his countenance a certain magnetism. One was a half-dollar size birthmark between his right eyebrow and temple. The other was an inch and a half-long jagged scar below his right sideburn. The latter was courtesy of a fall against a row of red bricks bordering a flower garden in a neighbor's backyard. Said bricks met Joe's face during a rousing game of neighborhood football.

"Were you engaged?" Joe asked.

"Yes. He was my fiancé."

"How did you learn about it? His death, I mean."

"From his mother." Miss Hughes sighed again. "I haven't talked about it much. Actually, hardly at all, just with my mother." Her eyes were gazing past Joe's left shoulder as though peering back through the years, 15 of them.

"Why are you telling me?"

"A good question, Joe. The answer is I'm not sure," Miss Hughes replied, lips pursing and redirecting her eyes toward Joe's. "Sometimes I just get to reflecting. Armistice Day is next week. November eleventh. And maybe because you are fond of history. And maybe too because I sense you have a spirit of adventure. Somehow I see your future taking you far from Shelby."

She was right about Joe's zest for history. From early childhood he had been lugging armloads of histories and biographies from stately, columned Marvin Memorial Library on North Gamble Street to his home on East Main Street. Benjamin Franklin. Daniel Boone. General Mad Anthony Wayne. Blackjack Pershing. They all had accompanied Joe on the half-mile trek from the former mansion of one of Shelby's earliest families turned library.

A smile creased Joe's face. "I've never been outside of Ohio."

Miss Hughes was Joe's favorite teacher. She was a whisper of a woman, barely five feet tall. Petite, her weight barely nudged the scales to 100 pounds. Miss Hughes dressed smartly. She favored navy blue and black dresses, usually accented by a single strand of pearls. When she wasn't smiling her visage was mildly haunted, eyes sad and lips curling slightly downward. Although only 42, her hair was graying, fetchingly so. Her movements — walking, bending, stretching to chalk names, dates and places at the top of her classroom blackboard — were unfailingly graceful, much like a cat leaping effortlessly from floor to window sill. She maintained discipline equally gracefully. Her favorite technique was turning a yellow #2 pencil eraser down and tapping her desk. Sometimes a penetrating stare accompanied the tapping. It was unfailingly effective. Occasionally she invited her girl students to her home for formal afternoon tea.

"Time, Joe. Give yourself time. For the young it's a precious gift."

"Have you ever been to France?"

Miss Hughes shook her head and sighed shallowly. "I've thought about it. Often. I guess I don't want to go alone, and I'm not sure if anyone would want to go with me." She removed her wire-rimmed glasses and with left forefinger and thumb rubbed the bridge of her nose between her Aegean Sea-blue eyes that seemed made to complement her graying hair. "Besides it would be a long and expensive trip. A train to New York, the long voyage across the Atlantic, another train ride." A pause. "But I'm saving money, so Europe might find me paying a visit one day."

"Is he buried there? In France?" Joe watched Miss Hughes reposition her glasses and nod. "I'm only a kid but I think you should go."

The fifth period bell — each of the six periods lasted 56 minutes — had rung, and Joe and Miss Hughes were chatting in her third floor classroom with windows overlooking a parking lot and a slender tributary of the not-much-wider Blackfork River that flowed between the school and Skiles Stadium and sliced Shelby into nearly symmetrical east and west sides. Miss Hughes was standing beside her heavy rectangular wooden desk, and Joe was sitting at his front-row desk, the kind that combined writing surface, storage space and chair into a single unit. He was leaning forward, elbows on desk.

"Sometime. Perhaps," she smiled down at him. "Why do you think I should go?"

The word closure hadn't entered the everyday vocabulary of 1930s Shelbians, but that was the concept that shaped Joe's reply. He breathed deeply and his eyes closed momentarily. "I think you are still mourning him. Maybe if you stood at his grave, you could say goodbye, and you wouldn't feel so heavy."

Miss Hughes shook her head almost imperceptibly. "You see things very clearly, Joe. Remarkably for one so young."

Joe's face reddened, except for the brown birthmark and jagged scar. He glanced up at the large round clock above the blackboard. He began easing from his chair. "I have to get to football practice."

"I know. Go." A pause as Joe stepped past her. "Thanks for listening. And, Joe ..." He stopped and pivoted. "Look beyond Shelby and Ohio. I believe you have much to offer the wider world."

Chapter Two

The rider flicked the reins twice and the coal black mare with a large white circle on her snout, whimsically named Pearl, easily ascended the last few feet of the trail leading to the summit of the hill that crested some 600 feet above the meadow below. The rider tightened the reins and the obedient mount stopped and stood virtually motionless.

"What do you think?" asked the rider, Gabriella Balas.

From behind her a little girl's voice replied, "It's so very pretty. I've never been this high." The voice belonged to Laura Ramaschi, age seven. "Can we stay a while?"

"Certainly," said Gabriella. "Take my left hand and slide off." Laura did as instructed and Gabriella held her hand until the girl's foot touched the ground. Then Gabriella removed her brown-booted right foot from the stirrup and dismounted quickly and gracefully. In 1933 she was 18. Lustrous black hair, falling to her shoulders, crowned her five feet seven inches. Her brown eyes sparkled with intelligence and wit. She jokingly ascribed her slightly olive complexion to her ancestors — a mix of gypsies with ill-defined roots and Roman conquerors of what was called Dacia when Emperor Trajan and his troops arrived in A.D. 101.

Gabriella was slender with uncommonly small breasts and narrow hips. Her lithe build enhanced her athleticism. She eschewed sidesaddles as too delicate for the Romanian equivalent of a tomboy who didn't confine swimming to the pool at her father's club. She exulted in taking plunges into a small pond near her home.

Romania was a poor nation but Gabriella's leather boots, black riding pants and black leather jacket were items her parents could easily afford. Cornel, her father, oversaw the nation's prosperous petroleum industry. Gabriella's mother Elena managed the household. The family lived in Ploesti (pronounced Ploy-esht in Romanian), center of the petroleum industry and as an oil boomtown the nation's most affluent city. The horse belonged to friends of Cornel with whom Gabriella and Laura were spending an autumn weekend.

"Look," said Gabriella, extended right arm and forefinger pointing toward the distant horizon. "That's Peles Castle."

"It's very pretty too." Laura's countenance clearly reflected her ancestry — Sicilians who had made their way to Dacia with Trajan's powerful legions. Black hair, long and curly, wide-set eyes, dazzling smile and strong chin. Her parents were close to Gabriella's. In fact, Laura's father was a senior member of Cornel's staff.

Peles Castle, flanked and backed by majestic fir trees, sat atop a rise in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains near Sinaia, population about 10,000, and some 30 miles north of Ploesti. Peles was never intended to be a fortress. In reality, it was a 168-room palace. Still, it had been called a castle since its construction began in 1875 and was completed in 1914.

King Carol II was born at Peles in 1893. Peles incorporated a mélange of architectural styles — neo-Renaissance, Gothic Revival, Saxon, Baroque. Wood, stone, bricks and marble all could be seen in the exterior. Asymmetrical towers, the taller soaring 180 feet, dwarfed the rest of the four-floor structure. A decorative heavy stone balustrade extended across the castle's front. The mish-mash design perhaps was explained by an entry in the journal of Queen Elizabeth, wife of King Carol I. "Italians were masons, Romanians were building terraces, the Gypsies were coolies. Albanians and Greeks worked in stone, Germans and Hungarians were carpenters. Turks were burning brick. Engineers were Polish and the stone carvers were Czech. The Frenchmen were drawing, the Englishmen were measuring, and so it was then when you could see hundreds of national costumes and hear fourteen languages in which they spoke, sang, cursed and quarreled in all dialects and tones, a joyful mix of men, horses, cart oxen and domestic buffaloes."

"It looks like an exciting place to live," said Laura, wearing a brown cloth jacket over a white blouse, blue ankle-length skirt and brown leather shoes. "Such a big house and no neighbors."

"I don't think the king wants neighbors."


"Probably so his guards can see anyone coming. Kings worry about things like that."


"Kings often have enemies. People who want a different king — or no king at all."

Chapter Three

The plane soared gracefully, first gaining altitude, then turning upside down before swooping and beginning a quick descent to a smooth landing on the long grass.

The craft was only 12 inches from nose to tail and, made of balsa, weighed only a few ounces.

Jefferson Davis Wolfrom, age 10 in 1933, had launched the tiny plane from a second floor window of the boarding house his mother Iris Ann operated at 305 East Martin in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. The boarding house stood just east of Main Street and on the "right" side of the Union Pacific Railroad tracks that bisected the city, running southwest to northeast. West of the tracks lived most of Pine Bluff's poorer residents including virtually all its blacks, commonly and not always maliciously spoken of as niggers. Jeff's hair was the gold of wheat ready for harvesting, and his eyes were as blue as Pine Bluff skies on an autumn afternoon. He inherited his coloring from Iris Ann. She stood a trim five feet four inches but radiated a presence that caused others to see her as taller. In 1932 at the fairgrounds outside Pine Bluff, Jeff saw a troop of barnstorming stunt flyers. They seemingly defied all of nature's immutable laws and still kept their planes safely airborne. Jeff was smitten. Soon he was making and sailing paper planes from second floor windows of the boarding house. He often fell asleep imagining himself at the controls of one of the aerial dervishes.

Iris Ann had more earthbound concerns. Her husband Wilfred had been killed in a logging accident in 1930. He had been crushed by a falling pine tree. Wilfred had seen the magnificent tree toppling toward him but had tripped and was unable to scramble from harm's way.

With his death went his wages, leaving Iris Ann to eke out a living for her and Jeff from the boarding house. That required no mean financial management ability. The house, built in the mid-1880s, was two stories with enough triangles in its design to suggest Grecian influence. On the left side of the façade a large triangular gable enclosed a pair of small attic windows. In the façade's center a smaller triangle crowned another attic window. A wide porch with a red tile floor spanned the entire front of the house and wrapped around to the right. Above the porch's center a wide low-slung triangle capped four Corinthian-style columns, two each flanking five concrete steps. Anchoring the façade's right side was a six-sided cupola capped by a six-sided cone-shaped roof.

The house sat on high ground. Before reaching the porch steps, an arrival first had to ascend five wide concrete steps and walk several more paces.

Inside, the house sprawled. There was no foyer; the front door opened immediately into a large living room. To its left were two bedrooms, the first of which had begun as a library and included built-in bookshelves, and the second of which was Jeff's. Beyond the living room was a hallway with a staircase on the left to the second floor. The hallway led to a large dining room and then a breakfast room that boasted a built-in china closet that covered an entire wall and a ceiling fan that battled Pine Bluff's sauna-like summers. To its left was Iris Ann's bedroom that adjoined the floor's lone bathroom. The kitchen occupied the rear and was huge, including a pantry. To the kitchen's left was an enclosed back porch.

The house's second floor included three spacious bedrooms, each furnished with a pair of double beds and with space for a cot. The single bathroom's floor was tiled in black and white.

No boarder enjoyed a private room. As a result, the four bedrooms easily accommodated eight boarders and sometimes as many as 10.

In the 1930s Pine Bluff's population hovered around 21,000. The Great Depression hit hard and two local banks failed. One of the failures wiped out Iris Ann's small savings account.

"Thank God for the railroads," Iris Ann said often enough for Jeff to regard it as something of a mantra. The railroads central to her survival were the Union Pacific and its grand station built in 1906 and the Cotton Belt with its sprawling complex on the city's far east side that included a roundhouse, switching yard and repair shops. The Cotton Belt was the town's largest employer and supplied most of Iris Ann's roomers and boarders who easily could walk back and forth from 315 East Martin to their jobs. Other large employers included area paper mills, and some of their workers were among Iris Ann's "drop-ins" for dinner for which she charged 25 cents.

Later, in 1936, a stockyard would be built in Pine Bluff, and in 1941 a military arsenal and Grider Field Airport which would include the Pine Bluff School of Aviation that would train some 10,000 pilots and crew before closing in 1944.

Iris Ann worked hard to make ends meet, and Jeff helped as best he could. Mornings she arose at 4:30 to fix brown bag lunches for boarders who started work at 6:00. With no refrigeration available at the rail complex, Iris Ann had to prepare lunches that could withstand several hours of Pine Bluff's stifling summer heat and humidity. Those lunches included such staples as a white bread meatloaf sandwich, a piece of fruit and a slice of cake or a couple cookies. Lunches also tended to consist of leftovers from the previous night's supper and baking. She inserted a napkin in each bag and wrote boarders' names on the bags.


Excerpted from Shadows of War by Mike Johnson Copyright © 2010 by Mike Johnson. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 3, 2012

    Highly recommended.

    The reason I bought this book, it mentioned the massacre at the
    hospital in Malaya. A relative was a survivor from that hospital.
    The story itself just touched on that event, but I found I was unable to stop reading. Will read it again at a later date.

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  • Posted November 27, 2010

    A "stay awake until the last page" historic thriller

    Johnson's meticulous research has assured us that, once again, he has produced a "stay awake until the last page" WWII is coming to Romania, Malaysia and Singapore, areas not usually discussed in most WWII fiction. The characters are real and so is the action.

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