Griffin began his career not as a writer but as a military man like the type he would eventually make millions writing about. After growing up in both New York City and the Philadelphia suburb of Wallingford, Pennsylvania, Griffin took the step in 1946 that -- little did he know at the time -- would set the course for his literary life: He enlisted in the United States Army. After finishing basic training, he went through counterintelligence instruction at Fort Holabird, New Jersey, and was assigned to the Army of Occupation in Germany under Major General I. D. White, commander of the U.S. Constabulary.
In 1951, while attending Philips University, in Marburg an der Lahn, in Germany, Griffin was recalled to active duty during the Korean War. He again served under General White, both at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and in Korea, where he earned the Expert Combat Infantry Badge and served as a combat correspondent and as acting X Corps (Group) information officer. Upon his release from active duty in 1953, Griffin was appointed chief of the Publications Division of the Army Signal Aviation Test & Support Activity at the Army Aviation Center, Fort Rucker, Alabama.
Although he first wrote under various pen names, Griffin didn't begin writing his bestselling string of military novels until he was well into his 50s. His first Brotherhood of War novel, The Lieutenants, was published in 1982 and touched off Griffin's well-known reputation for writing with historical accuracy and fascinating detail. Publishers Weekly noted that this first novel "captures the rhythms of WW II army life... in an absorbing account of life among military men." Griffin would go on to pen additional books in the Brotherhood of War sequence and to launch other bestselling series -- including The Corps, Badge of Honor, Honor Bound, and Men at War, among others.
While Griffin's public persona is a bit of an enigma -- he's not one to make the talk show rounds -- it's clear that he both knows and appreciates his readers, especially his fellow military men. On his official web site, Griffin reflects, "Nothing honors me more than a serviceman, veteran, or cop telling me how much he enjoys reading my books."
(Amanda H. Reid)No Gun RI: A Military History of the Korean War Incident by Major Robert Bateman -- This book is all the more timely in light of today's rogue reporters causing newspapers to make their own embarrassing headlines. Major Batemen, a historian and active army officer, questioned an Associated Press story about U.S. soldiers in the Korean War gunning down South Korean refugees under a bridge in a place called No Gun Ri. The story won a Pulitzer Prize and the reporters turned it into a book. But Bateman did his own digging. He found, among other blunders by the AP writers, that one of the AP's main "witnesses" was in fact a fraud -- he'd never been at No Gun Ri. Bateman's account reveals the real truth of what happened at No Gun Ri. Winner of the 2004 William Colby Award (www.colbysymposium.org).
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In the winter of 2000, W.E.B. Griffin talked with our Thrillers & Espionage editor, Andrew LeCount.
Set your Honor Bound series up for those who have yet to discovered it. Who are the primary characters? What aspect of World War II does the series involve?
I always wanted to write about "good Germans," as opposed to the Nazis, but I never could find the vehicle until I came down here -- this is written in Buenos Aires, where I now live part of the year -- a dozen years ago, to shoot duck. Argentina has the best bird shooting in the world.
Cutting a long story short, I now have an Argentine wife, an Argentine step-son, Ignacio, a father-in-law who is a retired Argentine Cavalry Colonel who spent most of his career fighting Peron and Communists, and an enormous collection of other Argentine in-laws. And friends.
I came down here expecting to find Mexico South. Like most Americans, my ignorance of Argentina and the "Southern Cone" (Argentina, Chile and Uruguay) was appalling and near total. The facts are that we are more like them, and they like us, than any of the South-and Latin American countries in between. The joke is (my wife hates it) that Argentines are Italians who speak Spanish, buy their clothes in Brooks Brothers, eat like the French, swear like the Germans, make sausage like the Poles, and are really the Lost Tribe of North Americans.
Honor Bound got started when I looked out the window of my Sheraton Hotel Room in downtown Buenos Aires, and saw a field of pup-tents in a small park, and a bunch of guys, who looked like GI's, hammering at a statue with sledge hammers. I went down to see what was going on. The statue was of Almirante (Admiral) Brown, an Englishman who helped found and was a hero of the Argentine Navy. A statue was erected to him near "The English Tower" that was supposed to be a symbol of Anglo-Argentine friendship.
The guys knocking his statue down were veterans of the Malvinas (NEVER, in Argentina, Falklands) War, and the reason they were knocking it down was the Argentina was in the process of erecting, across Avenida Libertador, the main street, a memorial wall to those who had fallen in the war. It looks just like our Vietnam Memorial in Washington. It is guarded round the clock by soldiers, and points right at the English Tower. Admiral Brown was in the way, so he had to go. The Argentines know how to hold a grudge.
The first thing I thought was that I would do a book about The Malvinas War, and I started to do some basic research. Two things happened. First, I realized I couldn't start with the war, I had to go back further in Argentine History to have the story make sense. Then an old pal of mine, doing research in our National Archives for a project of his own, came across a wealth of now-declassified top secret material dealing the OSS operations here during World War II.
We (the OSS, and the FBI, which was also here) really did a job on Peron, who did his best to have Argentina (and Chile, and Paraguay and Uruguay) join the German/Italian Axis. We didn't do it alone. There were many thousands, hundreds of thousands in total, of German refugees (not all of them Jews) from Nazism, and from Mussolini's fascism, here. Plus, of course, some people who thought Mussolini was just wonderful and Hitler a great man.
Peron didn't get to declare war on us, but he didn't get around, either, to declaring war on the Axis until two weeks before the Germans surrendered.
So, with that material available to me, World War II was the place to start the Argentine series. I'm really having a ball writing it, because so much of this is new to me.
What really pleases me is that the books have been successful, that my fellow Americans are apparently interested in what happened down here. There was considerable worry about this by my editor, Neil Nyren, at Putnam, and both of us were surprised when even the first one made the New York Times bestseller list.
You do an excellent job depicted the German side of things in Secret Honor. Do you enjoy writing German characters? Do you find that writing German characters is more challenging than writing American characters in any way?
When I was a very young soldier in the Army of Occupation in Germany, I worked for General I.D. White, who had commanded the 2nd Armored "Hell on Wheels" Division to the outskirts of Berlin. One of our great generals. One of my jobs was quietly taking food packages and other assistance to German generals, and their widows, who in General White's opinion did not deserve to be treated with the contempt the Nazis had earned for themselves. General White got together with one of his best opponents, General Hasso von Manteuffel, and wrote a book, "Alternative to Armageddon" about how to deal with post-war problems. And I got to meet Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg's widow and family. Everybody knows von Stauffenberg gave his life in a failed attempt to blow up Hitler, but I met others of his ilk, and learned about the good guys, too.
Is it hard?
My mother was a Pennsylvania Dutchman (they're really Hessians) whose maiden name was Schnable, and I was both a soldier in Germany, and went to university there, both of which probably make it easier for me to write about Germans and Germany.
How do you go about transforming an historical figure into a character in your books? Do you find this more or less challenging than creating a character from scratch?
It's much harder. An author's characters do what he wants them to do. You have to really think about how an actual person would behave in a given circumstance. I've been very lucky all along in either (rarely) knowing the character myself, or being with people who knew them intimately, and have been willing to tell me about them, and their behavior in private. This is true, for example, of both MacArthur and Perón.
Is Cletus Frade based on a real OSS agent, or is he derived from more of a compilation of real people?
I knew that I had to interest my American readers in Argentina, and I suspected the only way I could do that was to have an American character in Argentina. Making him an OSS agent was the way I decided to do that. He is a composite of people I have known in that business, not patterned after any one guy.
As Erich Maria Remarque draws out in his All Quiet on the Western Front many of the men, or boys, who battle each other in war are really not at all different from one another. Is this a point that you like to stress in your war novels as well? I noticed this quality in the relationship between Peter and Clete.
That was easy. Peter are Clete were fighter pilots. If you want proof that all fighter pilots are brothers, hang around the officer's club bar at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas. There are usually fighter pilots from eight, ten different countries there. In their flight suits, it's damned near impossible to tell them apart, and the only foreigners to be tolerated are people who are not fighter pilots.
One aspect of Secret Honor focuses on a group of German officers who secretly help wealthy Jews travel to Argentina in return for hefty payoffs. Did such an activity actually take place?
Yeah. The point here is that "German officers" didn't do it. The SS did it. In addition to being mass murderers on a hard-to-believe but absolutely true scale, the truth is that the SS (not the Waffen-SS) was heavily larded with common criminals who were in it for what they could steal. And steal they did.
What about Operation Phoenix: the insurance plan for the protection and extradition of high-level German officers in the event that the Axis powers fell to the Allies. Did such a plan exist? If so, to your knowledge, did it at all succeed?
It had several different names, but hell, yes, it existed. I saw just a couple of weeks ago -- in the Paris Herald Tribune, I think -- that Goebbels sent $40,000,000 to Argentina. I think Perón probably wound up with most of it, and I'm trying right now to check that out.
The plan didn't work too well for the really highly placed Nazis, but it worked well for the middle level. The day I started to write the second Honor book, the newspaper carried the story of the arrest in San Carlos de Bariloche (Argentina's Vale; a little nicer, I think) of a guy named Pripke who had been the number two SS guy at the Ardeatine Caves massacre outside Rome. He had been there since 1946, where he owned an hotel.
Talk a bit about the OSS (Office of Strategic Services). What was its primary purpose? In your opinion, how vital was the OSS's contribution to the Allied war effort?
The original idea (Donovan's first title was 'Coordinator of Information') was to have one agency through which all (Army, Navy, State Department) would be filtered. That didn't work, as (with good reason) no body wanted to give up their own sources, nor pass everything they knew around. The OSS did a hell of a job in Europe, but MacArthur kept them out of his theatre of war. For some reason, Truman hated it, and disbanded it. And shortly afterward, recognized his mistake and re-started it, as the CIA, under the Dulles Brothers, who were heavy-hitters in the OSS in Europe.
Because of its secret nature, is the OSS a difficult topic to research? Have you ever had the pleasure to meet or speak with an actual OSS agent?
I have met one or two, over the years, yes.
Not too many people are aware that former CIA Director William Colby was an OSS Lieutenant who twice jumped behind enemy lines in Europe in War II. He was a Life Member of the Special Forces Association. I'm proud to say that the last time Bill had three drinks in a row, I was privileged to be in his company. He went home from the Norwich University Seminar on Intelligence, Military, and Diplomatic Affairs and fell out of his canoe two days later. That's now the William Colby Seminar on IM&D Affairs.
What is your own military background? You write so convincingly and thoroughly about so many aspects of the U.S. Armed Forces, your personal experience must be quite extensive.
My own military background is wholly un-distinguished. I was a sergeant. What happened was that I was incredibly lucky in getting to be around some truly distinguished senior officers, sergeants, and spooks.
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