Not everybody agrees with me on this, but I think the best use of indie publishing is to tell true stories that otherwise simply would not be published, and World War II stories are a perfect example. It is important now to make sure these firsthand stories are told before they are lost forever.
Legacy publishers are not necessarily interested in them, but each World War II story is unique in their own way. Each individual had his or her own private war.
Today’s guest, Yvonne Caputo, told her father’s World War II stories, but also the tale of how the telling, itself, brought father and daughter together. The result was her book, Flying with Dad: A Daughter, A Father, and how his World War II Stories Brought them Closer.
Growing up, Yvonne did not have a very close relationship with her father. A member of the WWII “Greatest Generation,” her dad was very brusque with her and did not show very much emotion or affection. That was what was expected of fathers of his generation. They were also expected to simply put the war behind them and move on with their lives.
It was not until Yvonne was sixty years old, and her father near the end of his life that he finally opened up about his experiences, both humorous and sad, during WWII and about the nightmares he had ever since. At last, after nearly a lifetime, Yvonne found a sense of closure with her father. It took her about twelve years to finish this book, which is about her dad, and her, the war, and so much more.
A few highlights from our interview
On Her Father at Last Telling World War II Stories
And so in that one phone call, he just opened up about this quirky, funny, off the wall, World War II story. And I said to him at the time, I said, ” Wait, I want to get a pencil and paper. I want to take this down.” And his deep resonating voice came back with, “Well, what the hell do you want to do that for?” I said, “Dad, I think this is a story that I should put on paper so the rest of the family can hear it.”
On Telling Her Dad About PTSD
And I said, “So what I want you to know is that you’re just normal and your nightmares were normal.” And I could tell from the sound of his voice when he came back on that there was such relief. I said, “There wasn’t anything wrong with you, you know, at all.”
Listen to my interview with Yvonne Caputo
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About the Host
Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 30 years, and has spent the last five years amplifying the voices of independent publishers and authors. He works with authors as a book editor to prepare their work to be published. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly and Longreads. Find Howard at howardlovy.com, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Read the Transcript of my Interview with Yvonne Caputo
Howard: I’m Howard Lovy and you are listening to Inspirational Indie Authors. There are many reasons to publish a book and all of them are personal to the author. Often it is to honor a family member or to come to terms with something in the author’s past. This is often the subject of first books. They’re often so personal that it’s difficult for readers to find a connection. It’s a tricky balancing act between what is interesting to you or your family and what everybody else might want to read.
Yvonne Caputo took about 12 years to find that balance that she came up with her soon to be released book Flying With Dad, a Daughter, a Father, and How His World War Two Stories Brought Them Closer. Hello Yvonne and welcome to Inspirational Indie Authors.
Yvonne: Thank you. Good to be here.
Howard: So first of all, did I get that basic dilemma right? This need for something personal and universal at the same time in your book
Yvonne: You did. My father would have been considered the greatest generation. And what he felt being a father was all about, was providing a roof over our head and making sure that there was food on the table. But having a closer relationship to his children was not something that was in his, let’s say, worldview.
Howard: That’s what fathers of his generation were expected to be. A little more brisk.
Yvonne: Yes, absolutely. And so as a child, there were so many instances for me that I wanted more. I wanted to have that close knit relationship with him. I had it with my mother, but I also wanted it with him. So the book came out of that relationship in the oddest of ways. In 2008, he and I were doing our weekly phone call. My mother had passed away, so when he picked up the phone, he could no longer say, I’ll get your mother. And so in that one phone call, he just opened up about this quirky, funny, off the wall, World War II story. And I said to him at the time, I said, ” Wait, I want to get a pencil and paper. I want to take this down.” And his deep resonating voice came back with, “Well, what the hell do you want to do that for?” I said, “Dad, I think this is a story that I should put on paper so the rest of the family can hear it.”
World War II Stories at Last
Howard: How old were you when you heard the story for the first time?
Yvonne: I was in my sixties. He had never talked about the war. I mean, we as children knew he was in it. We knew that he’d been a navigator. We knew he flew B24s. We knew when he flew out of England, but those little detailed stories are just something that he’d never talked about. So he was a storyteller and he loved engaging people, particularly in funny stories. So I think that’s how it just spilled out. But the next week when I called him, I said, “If you’re willing, Dad, start at the beginning.”
He said, “Well, what do you mean?” I said, “Well, how did you get into the war in the first place?” And he just then opened up and week after week we would go from what his life was like and how he got training to repair airplanes and how that led to flying in an airplane to his deciding to petition to get out of his presidential deferment and go into the war. When he repaired this plane, the pilot insisted that dad get in it as well. And when he was up in the air, he said, “Yvonne, I remember,” he said, “I didn’t want to fix them anymore. I wanted to fly them.” So his reason for going into war was not what many people thought. He wanted to learn to fly.
Howard: A lot of World War II stories have been told and there’s some similarity between them. But also each one is unique in their own way. Each individual had their own private war. What is unique about your father’s stories?
Yvonne: They were more personal in nature. They were the things that he remembered. They were how insecure he felt when he was in navigation school because he was so afraid he wasn’t going to pass. They were stories about other GIs that he was with and what it was like when they didn’t get their wings, you know, there were stories about riding his bicycle around England. There were, it was just these intimate details that gave me this picture of my father that I’d never had before.
And the more we talked, the more he opened up and the more he opened up, the closer we got. For example, he came back from the war with horrendous nightmares and he told me what those nightmares were. And at the end of his story, I said to Dad, I said, “I’m really so sad that they didn’t know at the end of the Second World War what we know now. And it would have been a whole lot easier for you if you’d have known that your nightmares were a normal reaction to the abnormal situation that you faced.”
Howard: Today they would call it PTSD, but at the time they called it something else – shell shock.
Yvonne: Right. Or battle fatigue.
Howard: Battle fatigue, right.
Yvonne: He said, “Well, what do you mean am?” I said, “Well,” I said, “people who witness traumatic events, those memories last a lifetime. And it is very much a real thing that people have nightmares reliving and trying to work out what had happened to them.” I said, “But in psychology we now know that there are things that we could do which would have helped you to deal with them in a vastly different way. And you didn’t have that.”
And I said, “So what I want you to know is that you’re just normal and your nightmares were normal.” And I could tell from the sound of his voice when he came back on that there was such relief. I said, “There wasn’t anything wrong with you, you know, at all.” And I said, “You didn’t talk about those nightmares because if you did back then you were thought to be crazy or you were chicken.”
Howard: Right. Men were supposed to be stoic and hold it all inside. And I forgot to mention that in my introduction to you, that you are also a psychologist. So I wanted to ask you to psychoanalyze yourself a little bit. How important was it for you to have that kind of closure with your father before he passed away?
Yvonne: It was probably one of the most healing things I’ve ever done. When I talked to you at the beginning when I said not having the relationship with dad that I wanted, the process of doing the book together, I got the relationship that I wanted. He trusted me with talking about his death and dying. He was very open about that. I would just ask him questions and he would say, “You know, sometimes I really just want to go, this isn’t fun anymore.” And my response was, “You know, I understand that. I will miss you dearly, but you and the good Lord, talk to the good Lord, you two decide when it’s time. But it certainly okay with me that you’re saying those kinds of things to me.”
The conversations that we had about his nightmares, I mean here was an opportunity for me to give back to my father in the best way possible. It just really strengthened my relationship with him and as I continue to work on the book, it does it even more. The more I get to know about him or the more I get to feel him and his world, the more I have the father that I wanted.
Howard: Well, would you like to read us an excerpt from the book?
Yvonne: Okay. So this takes place when I was ten and he was not going to take me fishing but my mother said “Please.” And I went. Okay. So my father says to me, “You stay here. I don’t want you to come to where we are cause you’ll just mess up the fishing.” And with that he walked down stream to the boys. I could no longer see him. I was very much on my own. I had heard the sounds of his footsteps on the hard dirt. So I knew he wasn’t far away. I was too content just to be out fishing with the boys to realize what he’d done. I was entertaining myself shaded from the hot sun and my spot at the side of the creek was tempered by a wonderful breeze. I cast out and focused on the bobber in the stream while letting my mind wander and daydream.
Yvonne: I was too pleased with the prospect of catching fish to care that dad had left me alone. My 10 year old mind just didn’t go there and then it happened. The bobber began to bounce in the water. I knew something was nibbling and I waited my heart racing. When the bobber went under the second time I gave a little tug on the pole. I felt it catch and I knew I had something. I was careful to reel in the line, give it some slack, reel in some more until I pulled my catch onto the bank. “Dad!” Silence. “Dad!” “What do you want?” The impatience was clear in his voice. “I caught a fish.” “Is it big enough to keep?” Did I hear a little respect in his voice? I heard him start to come my way. His footsteps heavy on the path. “Yup.” I was beaming.
Yvonne: The fish was flopping beside me on the ground. I had done it all by myself. I was on the team. I was. He came back along the trail with a stringer in hand. This was a light metal chain that had lock snaps along its length. The snap would open somewhat like a safety pin and a metal wire was thread up through the Fisher scale and out the mouth. Dad showed me how to use it and he put the stringer with the fish attached to the back into the stream. This allowed us to keep the fish alive. Freshness was important. Dad anchored the stringer into the bank beside me and set back off to his own spot by the creek. I called him back twice more, “Dad, I got another fish.” “You know what to do?” “Yup.” I knew exactly what to do. All the way home I couldn’t wait to see mom and tell her what happened.
Yvonne: I bounced into the kitchen and showed her the stringer with three fish, the ones I had caught. “How did the guys do?” Mom asked. It was only then that I realized what I had done. I stood there pulling myself up to be as tall as I could. I was so proud of myself and I wanted it all to show. Mom didn’t say a word, but a smile spread across her face. I turned away allowing myself to scrunch up my face with a silent “Yes!” I had bested them and in particular, I had bested my dad. What I wanted to say was “Don’t say I can’t come along, I’ll show you,” but I said nothing.
Howard: Again, the book is called Flying with Dad, a Daughter, a Father, and how his World War II Stories Brought Them Closer by Yvonne Caputo. Thank you very much, Yvonne.
Yvonne: It’s been a pleasure. Thank you.
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