In the summer of 1976, the first women were admitted to the United States Military Academy, and the first women to complete a four-year ROTC program were commissioned as second lieutenants.
Lori, Maura, Anne, and Amelia's journey into a male-dominated army are chronicled in this exciting, page-turning adventure, as they face the challenges of being accepted into an army that is struggling to integrate women.
Refined by Fire shares the women's uncertainty, frustration, and friendship, while accurately depicting the challenges both the academy cadets and active-duty lieutenants encountered in the United States Army of the mid-1970s. Refined by Fire, the first novel in the Guardians of Peace historical fiction series by Ruth VanDyke and Yvonne Doll, weaves a tale of young women surviving and thriving in sometimes difficult and completely uncharted circumstances.
|Publisher:||Greenleaf Book Group, LLC|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.70(d)|
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Refined by Fire
Book One in the Guardians of Peace Series
By Ruth VanDyke, Yvonne Doll
River Grove BooksCopyright © 2014 Ruth VanDyke & Yvonne Doll
All rights reserved.
TUSCALOOSA, ALABAMA, MARCH 1976
"YOU DID WHAT?" CHARLES William Bannister IV stood up from his armchair in Amelia's parents' parlor, dropping the newspaper he had been reading.
"I applied for and was granted a direct commission in the Army," Amelia Howard said. Impish and auburn haired, she carried herself like the belle that she was from an old, well-to-do Southern family.
Charles, whom she had affectionately dubbed Boo, was her childhood sweetheart. She had adored him from their first meeting when they walked together with their mothers on her first day of school. Every morning after that, he had stopped by the house to carry her books to and from school. Her mother always had warm cookies and milk waiting for them, and they would spend the afternoon playing together, sharing secrets, and planning the adventures they would share when they were older.
Growing up, she'd never had a best girlfriend because she had Boo, and he was all she ever needed. They never really announced themselves as boyfriend and girlfriend; it was just assumed by everyone. They attended the University of Alabama together, pledging to the fraternity and sorority that their parents had pledged to decades ago.
Amelia's acceptance into Kappa Delta was guaranteed not only because her mother and grandmother were alumni but also because her great grandmother was one of the founding members. Being in a sorority gave Amelia her first close association with girlfriends, and her roommate freshman year was Anne Devereaux. Anne was from Metairie, Louisiana, just outside of New Orleans. Her mother was killed in a freak accident when she was fifteen, leaving her two brothers and doting, alcoholic father to raise her.
Despite very different upbringings and personalities, Anne and Amelia became fast friends. Amelia regularly invited Anne to her parents' home on weekends, and when Amelia's parents discovered that Anne was not going home for Thanksgiving, they invited Anne to spend the holiday weekend with them.
This unlikely friendship only grew stronger, perhaps in part because Amelia felt sorry for Anne, and Anne enjoyed feeling part of a so-called "normal" family.
The only source of friction in their relationship was Amelia's fiancé, Charles. Anne hated the way Charles controlled Amelia's every thought and action. She had broached the subject carefully once and Amelia chided her, extolling Charles's virtues and making it clear that she was very happy with her life. Not wanting to risk alienating Amelia, Anne dropped the subject.
Near the end of freshman year, Amelia asked what Anne's plans for the summer were. Anne described how until her mother's death, she had taken her to France every summer to visit relatives. Some of the relatives from France had attended the funeral and convinced Anne's dad to let her continue to visit every summer. Amelia wistfully mentioned that she had never been out of the country and made Anne promise to write her regularly, with details of what she was doing and what it was like to live in France.
That led to Anne explaining to her French relatives how kind Amelia and her parents had been to her and asking if she could bring Amelia with her one summer. The French relatives agreed, and when Anne returned for her sophomore year, she gave the good news to Amelia. Amelia was thrilled, but when she asked her parents if she could go, she was surprised and disappointed that they said no. Anne and Amelia decided then and there to work on Amelia's parents, and after almost two years of gentle persuasion, they reluctantly agreed to let Amelia spend the summer between her junior and senior years in France with Anne.
Anne and Amelia visited the museums and sights of Paris and traveled to beaches on the Normandy coast, where Amelia's grandfather had landed and fought during WWII. Away from Tuscaloosa's polite society for the first time in her life, Amelia discovered that wine was not the devil's nectar, frank and open discourse was intellectually stimulating rather than ugly, and life was hers to live and make of it what she wanted.
"I understand that going to France changed you," Charles said, "but this just beats all! Sure, change is needed, but nothing changes quickly in this part of the country. Our parents and grandparents are still fighting the fact that black people can eat at the same restaurant with them and, God forbid, may even have eaten at the very table they're sitting at!"
Charles paced back and forth in front of Amelia, hands clasped behind his back. He sat back down in his armchair and glared at her. "I now have the unpleasant task of explaining what you've done to my father and asking if it's possible for one of his federal judge friends to get the paperwork you foolishly signed today declared null and void."
"Are you finished?" Amelia asked in a quiet voice that belied the anger welling up inside her.
Taken aback, Charles raised his eyebrows; Amelia only asked that question when she was furious, and she had never asked him that question. Realizing that he was just barely in control of his emotions, he just nodded.
"I resent you treating me like some feebleminded dolt, and just so we are clear on this matter, I'm just informing you of my decision, not asking for your opinion."
"Dear God, Amelia, I understand you want a life of purpose, and I support that. But the Army? Anne put you up to this, didn't she?"
"My summer in France and talking with Anne and others that summer made me realize I'm dreadfully boring and really don't have a clue as to what goes on outside of the perfectly ordered life I have here in Tuscaloosa. I just want to see what's out there and decide for myself what I want my life to be. The Army seemed like a reasonable way for me to figure a few things out while you finish law school and establish your practice."
"Hell, Amelia," Charles said, "this is all a bit much for me to take in right now. You were perfectly happy until your college roommate convinced you that your life wasn't good enough."
Amelia hadn't expected Charles to be thrilled by her decision, but she was stunned and hurt by his extreme opposition. His anger and unfair assessment of Anne's influence on her decision left her speechless.
Without warning, Charles opened the parlor doors and stormed off. Not quite knowing what else to do, Amelia followed him out the front door, onto the porch. "Charles, don't leave, we need to talk this out." Ignoring her, he got into his car and started the ignition. Amelia sat down in a rocking chair and watched him drive away. For the first time, she wondered if she had made the right decision.
She'd been sitting there for about a minute, physically and mentally numb, when her father stepped out onto the porch. "I don't mean to pry," he said, "but I couldn't help hearing your voices from my study. Is everything okay, kitten?"
Looking at him, tears slowly falling down her cheeks, she said, "No, Papa, it's not." She stood and hugged him. "Let's go get Mama. I need to tell you about some decisions I've made about my future."CHAPTER 2
TUSCALOOSA, ALABAMA, MAY 1976
AMELIA WALKED INTO THE living room, where her parents were talking to the caterer about the commencement dinner they were hosting later that day. Her father left his wife's side to give Amelia a hug and lead her out into the large foyer. "Well, darlin'," he said, "how does it feel to be a 'Bama graduate? Are you excited?"
Amelia gave him a wry smile. "I guess," she said. "I just can't believe that in less than a month I'll be in the Army, and by the end of the year, I'll be living in Germany."
"Yes, Amelia, your mother and I are very much aware of your impending departure. It never occurred to us that you would make a decision that took you away from Tuscaloosa, let alone Alabama and the United States, without at least talking to us or Charles about it first."
"I'm sorry, Daddy, I guess somethin' in me just snapped at the realization that I've never made even one decision without consulting you or Charles. I just want to make one big decision about my life while I still can."
Pausing for a minute and realizing that her father had nothing further to say, Amelia continued her lament.
"Boo hasn't talked to me since our argument. I saw him downtown for the first time about a week ago and said hi, and he didn't even acknowledge me! There's a part of me that wants to stay here and be with Boo, and another part of me is furious with Boo for not supporting me when I explained to him that I need to do a bit of exploring before I settle down. How could he do that, Daddy?"
"Do you really expect me to have an answer to that, darlin'?"
Amelia sighed. "No, but at least you're supportive of my right to make my own decisions, even if you don't agree with them."
"Yes, I am, but at the risk of sounding unsupportive, your mother and I are really struggling with this decision, and it's times like this that we realize just how little influence we have, now that you're an adult. We love you, and all we can do is hope that this will not be a decision you'll regret for the rest of your life."
"Really, Daddy, is that the best you can do?"
Out of the corner of his eye, Mr. Howard saw Anne coming down the stairs. Seeing this as an opportunity to change the subject, he turned and looked up at Anne. "Amelia and I were just talking about how exciting it is that you girls are now 'Bama graduates."
Amelia pasted a smile on her face as she turned to greet Anne as well. "You arrived in the nick of time," she said. "And bearing a gift, no less."
Anne held out a beautifully wrapped box. "Sir, I am so grateful for the kindness you and your entire family have shown me over the past four years, making me feel like one of the family. I couldn't help overhearing part of your conversation, and I want you to know that I was as surprised as you were when Amelia told me she was joining the Army."
"Darlin', don't worry your head about it," Amelia's dad replied good-naturedly. "We're not happy with Amelia's decision, but you are in no way to blame. And you are always welcome here."
Amelia kissed her father on the cheek. "I love you, Daddy."
Mr. Howard kissed Amelia back and extended an arm each to Amelia and Anne. "Sugar, I have two lovely graduates who are hungry and want you to join us for lunch," he said to his wife as they stepped into the parlor.
Mrs. Howard turned from Lillibeth, the caterer. "Oh my, just head out to the verandah," she said. "I'm certain Jesse has lunch already set up. I'll be there in just a minute."
Amelia gently took her mother by the arm. "Mama, Lillibeth has catered every event you have ever had. She knows what to do. Let her alone to do it, and come relax and spend time with us. Besides, Anne has a gift for you and Daddy."
Mrs. Howard hugged Anne. "This is really not necessary," she said with a twinkle in her eye. Smiling, she took the gift and led them to the verandah where Jesse, the housekeeper and sometimes cook, had laid out plates with open-faced chicken sandwiches, slaw, and sweet tea. They sat around the table. After Mr. Howard said a blessing, Mrs. Howard said, "Y'all start eatin'. I'm gonna open my gift." She eagerly tore off the wrapping paper and opened the box. "Anne, you shouldn't have!" she exclaimed with delight.
Anne smiled. "I'm glad you like it. I remembered you admiring it in the store window when we went out for Easter brunch."
"That is very sweet." Mrs. Howard put the vase in the middle of the table and reached over to hug Anne again. "Thank you."
That evening, after a full day that had started with a morning commencement exercise, a leisurely lunch, and a commencement dinner that had lasted until nine, Amelia's parents excused themselves while Amelia and Anne headed out to sit on the rocking chairs on the front porch for a bit. They sat in silence until Amelia asked, "Are you excited about going to your officer basic and then on to Germany?"
"Absolutely!" Anne paused a minute and continued, "But you're not, are you?"
Amelia pursed her lips. "I'm all over the map emotionally," she said. "This should have been one of the happiest days of my life. I'm not sure what was harder—Boo not being here to celebrate this with us, or his parents being here and all of us ignoring the fact that he didn't come."
"Charles is a selfish, entitled boor, but I know you love him, and because this is so hurtful for you, I sorta wish he had come."
"Thanks, you're a good friend," she said, and smiled. "I guess I'm just a bit nervous about being totally alone for the first time in my life."
"Amelia, you're stronger than you give yourself credit for." Anne stood up. "I think I'll turn in; what about you?"
"No, you go on."
Alone on the porch, lost in thought, Amelia rocked through the night. When she heard the crowing of the rooster just before dawn, she sighed, went inside, locked the front door, and went upstairs. She lay down on her bed, eyes wide open, staring at the ceiling, waiting until it would be seemly for her to take a shower and start another day of her life pretending everything was fine, because that was just the way things were done around here.CHAPTER 3
FORT McCLELLAN, ALABAMA, JUNE 1976
AMELIA TURNED RIGHT OFF of Alabama highway 21 and slowed down as she approached the Summerall gate entrance to Ft. McClellan. A young MP stepped out of the guard shack, motioning her to stop. Rolling down her window, she said, "Hi, I'm here for the Women's Army Corps Officer Orientation course. Can you help me?"
"Yes, ma'am, but I need to see your ID and orders first."
Amelia nodded. She handed the MP a copy of her orders and her driver's license.
"Ma'am, you haven't been issued a military ID yet?"
"No, they told me that I'd get one when I in-processed."
The MP nodded. "Okay, ma'am, this will take a few minutes. I have to fill out a guest pass for you."
Armed with her guest pass and directions to the welcome center, Amelia thanked the MP and drove on to the post. After a few miles of nothing but scrubby pines and red clay, she wondered if she had somehow missed a turn. A few minutes later, she saw a cluster of long, white buildings that looked like they might have been built during WWII. She made a left just before the gas station, entered the traffic circle, and took the second right, which led her over a small, beautiful stone bridge and up a short steep hill. At the crest of the hill, a hulking, old white building loomed. Amelia smiled wryly. It looked more like a haunted house than a welcome center.
The inside of the welcome center reminded her of an old theater with all the seats removed. Across the room was a stage with metal file cabinets lined up against the back wall and a large table in the middle. Gray metal desks had been lined up along the windowless walls. On each side of the massive office space, staircases led to a balcony area with desks lined up along the balustrade and floor-to-ceiling windows, allowing natural light to filter in. In the middle of the room stood a three-sided counter like one might see in a library. Young women filled most of the chairs that had been lined up in front of the counter.
Amelia walked up to the counter and said softly, "Excuse me, ma'am."
Looking up from her typewriter, the woman behind the counter replied, "Lieutenant, you can address me as sergeant, but do not address me as ma'am. I work for a living." She stood and walked to the counter. "Give me ten copies of your orders, ma'am," she growled, "and then have a seat over there until your name is called."
Amelia's eyebrows raised a bit, but she immediately opened her folder, took out ten copies of her orders, and sat down in one of the open chairs.
"Sorta reminds ya of a pissed-off gorilla in the zoo, doesn't she?"
Startled, Amelia turned to the striking young woman in the chair next to her. Tall and slender, the woman had straight, shiny black hair, the whitest skin Amelia had ever seen, and piercing blue eyes.
"Well, she isn't the most pleasant person I've ever encountered."
Laughing heartily, the young woman extended her hand. "I'm Maura," she said. "And that's about the biggest understatement I've heard in a while. It's sorta like calling an earthquake a naturally occurring environmental phenomenon."
"Amelia. Nice to meet you."
"Likewise," Maura replied. "Sorry, I'm from New York, and I'm finding the excessive politeness and double entendre of you Southerners a bit unsettling. You guys use all sorts of phrases that take understatement to a whole new level and say things like, 'Well, bless your little heart.' Where I come from, that would be a term of endearment, but I get the feeling that here it's a real slam, and I don't quite know how to respond."
Excerpted from Refined by Fire by Ruth VanDyke, Yvonne Doll. Copyright © 2014 Ruth VanDyke & Yvonne Doll. Excerpted by permission of River Grove Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Refined by Fire was a very captivating book. Although I was never in the military, I found it both exciting and educational. It was very easy to identify with the characters in the book. I found the book to be very quick paced and I loved the author's quick whit and story telling ability. The women in this book were very inspirational and I look forward to the next in this series.
Ruth VanDyke and Yvonne Doll did a fantastic job in telling the story of the first women in West Point Military Academy. They tell the story of 4 women - Lori, Maura, Anne, and Amelia, who had to live, learn, train and work beside men who did not want them any where near them, for they were only women.. This brought me back home, as I am from that area and I know West Point and the area fairly well, and it was nice to hear more about what went on in the academy and with the Cadets. I also joined the Navy during that time frame and lived and work with men of the same thought process, it wasn't always a great time, but I truly enjoyed my time spent in the military, as the characters and writers did, as showed in this book. I would, and have recommend this book. A great story and I am looking forward to reading more of their stories.
I really enjoyed reading Refined by Fire. Could not imagine what the young women experienced at West Point. They were so strong and really stuck through very trying, difficult times. I cannot wait to read the next book and see what is in store with the characters.
Guardians of Peace series, Refined by Fire, gives a clear portrayal of how women in the military were treated back in the day. There are so many characters that it was easy to hop on board with their descript journeys. The short chapters and pacing is quick and gives little glimpses into the eyes of each character. I really liked Lori and learning about West Point in the early days. I'm excited to see how these characters' lives intertwine and connect into the present day and see where their stories go. When is the next one?!
This is a positive and realistic glimpse into what the first women graduates of West Point and ROTC went through in their quest to serve in the US Army. Ordinary young women, with strength and courage they did not know they possessed, doing groundbreaking work without even realizing the extent of their impact on those who followed. I am hooked - I want to read more!
AWESOME STORY! I felt like I was there – every step of the way! Authentic tale set in historic fiction by those that were the actual players and lived the experience. This book will speak to the heart of everyone who is proud to be an American! A must-read for anyone who finds themselves, or wishes to tread, in unchartered cultures, employment or life. A great book/model for any teen to adult female to read to have courage to make a difference in the world and serve proudly in our Armed Forces. I plan on buying a copy for every teen girl I know, and every young man or woman entering ROTC, the military academies or military service! I can’t wait for the next book!