Honoring the memory of a mentor


Author and playwright Jon Shirota, the last member of the Handy Writers Colony in Marshall, Illinois, has given the Marshall High School Foundation $5,000 to fund the Lowney Turner Handy Creative Writing Scholarship for the next 10 years to give $500 annually to the best writer at the high school.

“If I live to be 100,” Shirota, now almost 90, said while laughing, “I’ll give another $5,000 to continue it for another 10 years.”

The Japanese-American who was born and raised on Maui and lives in Southern California is the author of “Lucky Come Hawaii,” written at the colony in the early 1960s, “Pineapple White,” “Chronicles of Ojii-Chan” and several other stories and the following plays: “Lucky Come Hawaii” (adapted from the novel), “Leilani’s Hibiscus” and “Voices From Okinawa.” All three plays were published in “Voices from Okinawa” and have been performed in New York, Los Angeles, Hawaii, Okinawa and Japan.

When “Lucky Come Hawaii” was adapted into a play, it was awarded a production grant from the John F. Kennedy Center for New Plays and led to other plays and other playwriting awards for Shirota. He has received awards from the Rockefeller Foundation, the American College Theater Festival, the Los Angeles Actors Theater Festival of One Acts, the Los Angeles County Cultural Affairs Department and the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission and National Endowment for the Arts.

Shirota wanted to fund the scholarship to honor Lowney Handy for nurturing him and helping him become a writer, without whom he doubts he’d ever have come to be a writer. He was working as an Internal Revenue Service representative in Los Angeles when Handy invited him to the colony in 1963. He resigned immediately, loaded up and drove the 2,000 miles to Marshall.

“She showed me the way,” Shirota said. “And I have the signed picture of her that she gave me on the wall of my office that I look up to each day as I sit down to write. She inspires me. My contribution to the writing scholarship is my way of honoring what she did for me.”

On the occasional trips back from his California home for James Jones Literary Society symposia, Shirota visits Handy’s grave in Marshall and leaves a bouquet of flowers after standing quietly before her grave in quiet contemplation.

After hearing of Shirota’s contribution, another former colony member who has contributed to the fund for the annual $10,000 James Jones First Novel Fellowship Award, Robinson native Don Sackrider, said, “It seems the Handy Colony lives on. How nice.”

While the Lowney Handy Writing Award has existed for many years — and a certificate is presented to the winning student each year by Dr. Jim Turner, Lowney’s nephew — it has never had a cash award to go with it.

“This is certainly a great tribute to Lowney and to Marshall,” said Alyson Thompson, director of the Marshall Public Library who has been instrumental in helping Shirota set up the financial contribution and is working with him and the Marshall High School Foundation to get the award in place for the next academic year. “It is not only an attribute to her, but to the community as well. And for that we are all thankful.”

The $500 annual scholarship will be given to a student who completes an application, holds a GPA of 2.5 or higher—Shirota likes the lower GPA because he never graduated from high school and joined the American Army as soon as he could and was stationed at Schofield Barracks where Jones was stationed when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor — and be a graduating Marshall High School senior.

Included with the application is a creative writing essay as outlined by MHS senior English teacher Amy Gard or her successor. Marshall High School students also compete for an essay-writing award, initiated by the James Jones Literary Society, based on Jones’ short story, “The Valentine.”

Another former colony member, Edwin “Sonny” Cole, a Marshall native who wrote two novels, “Some Must Watch” and “A Legacy of Love,” before turning to teaching at Menlo Park, Calif., becoming head of the lower school and then becoming headmaster where he stayed until retirement, also remembered Marshall by leaving $100,000 to the Marshal Public Library after he died in 2015.

The library has all the books written by members of The Handy Writers Colony. Besides Shirota, Jones, Sackrider and Daly, other writers from the colony who published books include John Bowers, Tom Chamales, Jere Peacock and Charles Wright.

Contributions will be accepted for the Lowney Turner Handy Creative Scholarship by the Marshall High School Foundation at 806 N. Sixth St., Marshall, IL 62441, to help fund the scholarship for years to come to honor Handy, who mentored many writers at the colony and was the guiding force in “From Here To Eternity” author James Jones’ initial success.

Ray Elliott is Past President and board member of the James Jones Literary Society.


2017 James Jones Symposium Nov. 8-9

Evansville_Shipyard (4)

Above: Evansville, Indiana, celebrates the completion of another ship for WWII.


The Eastern Illinois University’s Departments of History and English, in conjunction with The James Jones Fund for the Study of the Experience of War, will open the 2017 James Jones Symposium on with a keynote presentation on Wednesday, November 8, 7 p.m., in the university’s Doudna Lecture Hall.

Dr. James MacLeod, professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Evansville Urbana-Champaign, will present the keynote address titled “Arsenal on the Ohio: The Wartime Transformation of Evansville, Indiana.” In his book, Evansville in World War II, MacLeod explores the city of Evansville’s role during the war. The Evansville Ordnance Plant made 96 percent of all .45-caliber ammunition used in the war, while the Republic Aviation Plant produced more than 6,500 P-47 Thunderbolts–almost half of all P-47s built during the war. At its peak, the local shipyard employed upward of eighteen thousand men and women who forged 167 of the iconic Landing Ship Tank vessels.



The symposium will continue on Thursday, November 9 from 12:30-4:00 p.m. in the Buzzard Hall Auditorium. From 12:30- 1:50 Dr. David Plath will screen So Long Asleep: Waking the Ghosts of War (2016), which he directed. This film chronicles a decades-long project to exhume, memorialize, and repatriate the remains of Koreans who died in Hokkaido while working as forced laborers building a dam and working in mines and factories in Japan during the Asia-Pacific War. The project brought students from Japan and South Korea together in an effort to excavate both remains and histories and in so doing create a community of awareness and mutual respect. Afterward, the University of Illinois professor will lead a discussion.

From 2:00-4:00 Student Paper Session: Works in Progress will be presented.


2017 James Jones First Novel Prize Awarded to Minneapolis writer

The 25th Annual James Jones First Novel Fellowship awarded first place and $10,000 to Erin Kate Ryan of Minneapolis, Minn., for her manuscript titled Quantum Girl Theory. The competition is co-sponsored by the Maslow Family Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Wilkes University and the James Jones Literary Society.

The first runner-up was Glori Simmons of Oakland, Calif.,  for her novel Restell. Second runner-up was Chia-Chia Lin of San Bruno, Calif., for her novel The Unpassing. Each runner-up received $1,000.

The James Jones First Novel Fellowship was established in 1992 to “honor the spirit of unblinking honesty, determination, and insight into modern culture as exemplified by (the writings of) James Jones.” Jones was the author of the National Book Award winning novel From Here to Eternity as well as the novels Some Came Running and The Thin Red Line. It is awarded to a North American author of a first novel-in-progress. This year’s competition drew 591 submissions.

First Place:

Erin Kate Ryan

Erin Kate Ryan’s fiction has appeared in publications such as Glimmer Train, Conjunctions, The Normal School, Booth, Hayden Ferry’s Review, and Copper Nickel. Her work has been honored by scholarships, fellowships, and grants from The McKnight Foundation, The Jerome Foundation (Minnesota Emerging Writers), BreadLoaf Writers’ Conference, Sewanee Writers’ Conference, The Millay Colony, Virginia Studio Center, and the Minnesota State Arts Board, among others. She holds degrees from the Bennington Writing Seminars and Boston University School of Law. Ryan believes in art as a powerful force for social change and is committed to using her writing to that end.

Quantum Girl Theory unfurls from the contradictory, implausible, and truefalse newspaper coverage of the real-life disappearance of 18-year-old Paula Jean Welden from her Bennington College dorm room on Dec. 1, 1946. Each chapter follows a life that she might have lived after placing her hand on the door knob: from faded Vegas showgirl to novice nun, from literary forger to clairvoyant girl detective. Missing girls are only missing to the people they leave behind. So perhaps Paula Jean Welden never disappeared: maybe she knew where she was all along.

First Runner-up:

Glori Simmons novel, Restell  is based on the life of Ann Lohman, a poor British immigrant who turns from tailoring to female remedies and midwifery in order to make a fortune in 19th century New York City. While Lohman, a.k.a. Madame Restell, was notorious throughout her professional life as an abortionist, this novel focuses on her personal struggles and relationships, illuminating the challenges of being a successful female entrepreneur in “Gangs of New York” Manhattan. At the same time, it examines the complicated relationships between Ann and her closest family members—her husband and daughter. When Ann is found with her throat cut in the lavish bathtub of her mansion, we must ask: was this the work of her own trained hand? Or the work of her greedy family?

Second Runner-up:

Chia-Chia Lin’s novel The Unpassing is an immigrant family drama that unfolds on the outskirts of Anchorage, Alaska, in the mid-1980s. Following the death of the youngest child, the family grapples with debilitating grief alongside sparse landscapes, social and cultural isolation and, eventually, financial ruin.  Ultimately, the children are forced to confront the self-destructive tendencies of their dreamer father and the legacy of their family’s failed uprooting.

Ogunquit next stop for Here to Eternity


From Here to Eternity the Musical will hit the stage of the historic Ogunquit Playhouse from October 4-29.

The Playhouse is collaborating with Tim Rice and the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival on the rollout of the North American premiere of the epic new musical From

Here to Eternity, based on James Jones’ acclaimed novel with lyrics by Tim Rice, book by Donald Rice and Bill Oakes, and music by Stuart Brayson. Set in Hawaii in the weeks before the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, this epic tale follows the powerful story of two U.S soldiers, the soulful Private Prewitt and ardent Sergeant Warden, as they embark on doomed and dangerous love affairs with the wrong women. As the infamous date of December 7th approaches, the claustrophobic world of the four lovers and the desperation of the soldiers of G Company splinter amidst an escalating war. The compelling story of men at war along with a fantastic new score is not to be missed.

For more information and tickets, see: http://www.ogunquitplayhouse.org/from-here-to-eternity

Colony member, K. Snedeker, dies

Kenneth E. “Kenny” Snedeker, 80, who joined the Handy Writers’ Colony in 1954, died on April 2017. As a young man right out of high school, Snedeker joined the Colony in Marshall, Illinois. Even before then, in 1952, he met James Jones and Lowney and her husband, Harry.


Kenneth was a resident of West Terre Haute, Indiana at the time of passing. His mother passed away when he was eleven years old and he later went to live with his Uncle and Aunt Johnie and March Snedeker, where he made his home until he graduated from Marshall High School in 1954. He served in the United States Army from 1955 to 1957 and after returning from the service he went to work at Quality Lime Company.

In 2001, Terre Haute journalist Steve Kash interviewed Kenny about his experiences in the Handy Writers’ Colony.

Kash: Kenny, how did you become involved with the Handy Writers’ Colony in Marshall?

Snedeker: My uncle Johnie [sic] Snedeker was the contractor hired to build the Colony and Jim Jones’s bachelor house. When I was in high school, I would come out and visit my uncle and the workmen after school let out for the day, and I met Jim and Lowney during these visits.

Kash: What year was this?

Snedeker: 1953 and ’54.

Kash: When did you move onto the Colony grounds?

Snedeker: When I graduated from high school in April of 1954, I went to Lowney. I was kind of down and out, and she was known to take in the downtrodden, and so on, and she invited me in and said, “I’ll get a book out of you.” Then I told her I’d lost a tooth, and she said, “We’ll fix that tooth, too.” Well, she never did, but that’s how I came to be invited in.

Kash: Was she like a mother figure for you?

Snedeker: Well, I was an illegitimate child, and my mother had died when I was ten years old, and my uncle and aunt, bless their hearts, took me in, but once I graduated from high school and was seventeen, they said, “You’re out on your own—you know—go find work and make your own way in the world.” I was scared and went to Lowney, and she took me under her wing.

Kash: How long had the Colony been in operation before you went and lived there?

Snedeker: It opened in 1949.

Kash: So, there were several colony members before you arrived?

Snedeker: Yes.

Kash: How many people were at the colony when you went to live on it in April 1954?

Snedeker: Approximately 15. I think ten were permanent and five were coming and going.

Kash: What age people were they?

Snedeker: They were all ages. I was probably the youngest. I’d say the oldest were in their late fifties.

Kash: Were there any females, or was it all male?

Snedeker: Let’s see, there was one female was there for a while (I think she was Lowney’s niece), and the rest were male. Lowney discouraged females, because, you know, that causes problems.

Kash: Had you been interested in writing in high school or in literature when you were in high school?

Snedeker: No. No interest at all. Lowney got me interested.

Kash: Did it cost you anything to move onto the colony?

Snedeker: No, not a penny.

Kash: Everything was provided?

Snedeker: Everything was provided. You just needed to bring your clothing.

Kash: And she provided all the food?

Snedeker: Yes.

Kash: What if a person needed some extra spending money?

Snedeker: They kept a little cash pot in the Ramada kitchen, and you could take money out of that and buy some postage, or if you needed a pair of socks, or maybe some underwear, but you couldn’t buy booze with it.

Kash: What was the daily schedule at the Handy Colony?

Snedeker: Well, reveille was 5:30, and when I would hear Lowney’s screen door slam and her shower shoes clapping on her feet and heels as she walked across the white rock to the Ramada, I knew it was time to get up to go eat breakfast.

Kash: What kind of breakfast would you have?

Snedeker: Well, it was a frugal breakfast. We had raisin toast; also you could make some hot cereal, or cold cereal. There was no talking allowed during breakfast—none whatsoever. You were supposed to be gathering your thoughts about what you were going to do that day. And after taking thirty minutes or so for breakfast, you’d go back to the barracks where you’d work on your daily assignment from Lowney of what author she wanted you to copy.

Kash: How much of the time you spent in the barracks was copying other writers’ works?

Snedeker: A couple of hours a day.

Kash: Can you give me examples of the works of the writers you copied?

Snedeker: Well, let’s see, there was Faulkner, Dos Passos, Steinbeck, Fitzgerald—Hemingway was a big one.

Kash: Did Lowney allow students to talk between yourselves about your writing or what you were interested in writing about?

Snedeker: No.

Kash: Do you know why she had this rule?

Snedeker: She never really explained it, but I can understand it. You just concentrated on your own work, I guess.

Kash: How long were you expected to write every day?

Snedeker: Until noon to one—then we would eat lunch.

Kash: After that, would you free to do anything you wanted to do, or did Lowney have other expectations?

Snedeker: We had work around the Colony to do—mowing, maintenance.

Kash: Did you work on building the swimming pool?

Snedeker: The swimming pool was already built when I got there. I remember seeing earlier students working on it when I visited there in 52, 53, 54—they had a huge pile of bricks that still had the mortar on them that came from the Robinson refinery, and these guys were out there chipping the mortar off. Each brick was cleaned and hand-laid in that pool.

Kash: Where was the pool located?

Snedeker: It was in the area between the barracks and the Ramada. Before the pool was built a hollow had been there. They brought in a bulldozer from the Robinson oil refinery where Harry Handy was the superintendent and dug out the hollow and built a dam on the west end.

Kash: So for the colony members in 1954 laboring was easier laboring than 1953 and 1952?

Snedeker: Oh yes. Right.

Kash: Did you get a chance in the afternoons to goof off, play football, run around out in the yard, or play games?

Snedeker: Some played ping-pong or shuffleboard in the Ramada. I mainly did a little trampoline. Not very much, I was scared of it, but Jim would come over once and a while and I’d get up on it.

Kash: Jim was Jim Jones?

Snedeker: Jim Jones. And he was good on the trampoline! He could jump up there and do flip-flops.

Kash: Did he ever criticize the other Colonists for their technique on the trampoline?

Snedeker: Yes. Those of us who were awkward on it, he’d get impatient and think we should learn quicker.

Kash: Was he a show-off?

Snedeker: Yes. Jim was very much a show-off—with about everything he did.

Kash: Was anybody as good as him on the trampoline among the other writers’ colony members?

Snedeker: No. Couldn’t be.

Kash: What did you do in the evenings at the Colony? Did you have TV to watch, or did Lowney let you listen to radio?

Snedeker: No. You were to read.

Kash: What kind of books did you read?

Snedeker: Mostly assigned books, which were by the same authors, like Hemingway and Steinbeck, that she had us copy. Sometimes we’d read dime novels. She wouldn’t have liked that if she knew it.

Kash: Were there other ways you passed free time in addition to reading?

Snedeker: Some of the fellows could go to Terre Haute to the whorehouses, if you had the money, which I never did.

Kash: Would she give you money to go the whorehouses?

Snedeker: No, no, couldn’t do that.

Kash: Was it was OK, as far as she was concerned, to take a trip to the whorehouses if you had the money?

Snedeker: Sure. And a lot of people at the colony went drinking to Bohannon’s in Terre Haute. It was there on Wabash Avenue. I think it’s still in business.

Kash: Were there any other establishments that colony members frequented that are still in existence now in 2001?

Snedeker: Not that I know of except for Bohannon’s. I know Jim frequented that one quite a bit.

Kash: Were you expected to write or work on Saturdays, or did you have a more relaxed schedule?

Snedeker: No, same schedule.

Kash: You are from the Marshall area, so did you have any visits from your friends? Were you able to visit your friends?

Snedeker: Yes, I invited two out there one afternoon. Joe Smitley and Norman Duzan. I wanted to impress them. And I could go leave and have dinner with my family any time I wanted to since they lived right there in town.

Kash: What was your routine on Sundays?

Snedeker: Didn’t do a whole lot, really. Just kind of lounged around. A lot of them swam, played games and cards or chess.

Kash: Would you go to movies? Was there a Marshall movie theater?

Snedeker: Yeah, we still had the Marshall movie theater.

Kash: Was there a drive-in theater?

Snedeker: No, had to go to Paris for that, but we had a nice theater in Marshall so we could do movies on the weekend.

Kash: How about girlfriends? Were you allowed to have a girlfriend if you were on the Colony.

Snedeker: No, you were discouraged, although I broke the rules and had a girlfriend.

Kash: Why did Lowney not want the guys to have girlfriends?

Snedeker: It interfered with your writing as far as Lowney was concerned. I remember Lowney saying to me one time that marriage, or women, were the kiss of death to an artist.

Kash: How were lunch and dinner meals at the colony?

Snedeker: Good food. Simple food. Lowney would usually cook, but sometimes some of the other Colonists would fix it if they had a particular item they excelled in cooking.

Kash: What were Lowney’s favorite things to cook?

Snedeker: She loved hot jell-o! Hot jell-o was good for you, she said. And we had a lot of lentil soup and chicken salad sandwiches.

Kash: Why did she like lentil soup?

Snedeker: Well, she told me once that it dated from the biblical days, and that it was one of the few foods mentioned in the Bible—so it had to be good for you if it was mentioned in the Bible.

Kash: Did Lowney offer writers colony members classes in writing when you were there, or did Lowney teach you writing techniques in individual tutorials?

Snedeker: Maybe individually, not as a group. You could turn in your weekly work to her at her bungalow, and sometimes she’d ask you in discuss it, and go over it, and she’d edit it—she often wrote notes in the sidelines.

Kash: Would she offer you some other written materials on the subject of how to write?

Snedeker: I remember she gave me Tom Uzzell’s Narrative Technique Handbook. She thought a lot of that book.

Kash: Did she encourage any certain styles of writing?

Snedeker: No.

Kash: Did she suggest subject matter for your stories?

Snedeker: Just your life’s experiences—and those of other people.

Kash: What role did Jim Jones have with the Colony members?

Snedeker: I believe it was strictly financial, because he could afford it then. He was rich and famous by the time I knew him.

Kash: Had he ever involved himself with helping people with their writing projects, or did you ever have any direct contact with him?

Snedeker: I didn’t really, but I think he might have after I left the colony. I remember reading somewhere that Lowney had taught him how to teach creative writing and he had worked with Rex Bollen some on Rex’s novel, which I don’t think was ever published, but maybe it was. I’m not sure.

Kash: Did you ever attempt to get Jones’s personal help?

Snedeker: Yes, one evening I went over to his house. He was sitting up drinking martinis, smoking the usual cigarette. I asked him how he handled a flashback, and he didn’t elaborate very much, just small talk. Then I said, “OK, I’m out of here.” And he later told Lowney that I’d been over there nosing and bothering him, and she balled me out for it—the only time she ever got on me. She said: “I’m the teacher, not James Jones.” I felt so low. It just broke my heart—I’d broken her confidence.

Kash: Did nationally prominent writers visit the Colony during the time you were there?

Snedeker: No, I think in ’53 Montgomery Clift and Norman Mailer visited, but no famous people visited while I was there, other than Tom Chamales.

Kash: It’s my understanding that Tom Chamales was, like you, a member of the colony, and he sold a book after working on it in Marshall.

Snedeker: That’s right. The novel Never So Few was written by Tom. Later, a movie was made of Never So Few starring Frank Sinatra and Gina Lollabrigida.

Kash: What age of a person was Tom when you knew him, and what was his background experience before coming to the Handy Colony?

Snedeker: Well, his background experience was, he was a very handsome Greek, and a large man, black haired, big black moustache. I thought he was very handsome. He was light complexioned. He’d just been through hell and back when I met him. He had fought with Merrill’s Marauders and guerrilla forces in Burma during World War II and had seen death, misery, suffering that no human should ever have to see. I felt so sorry for him, but he was able to put that experience down on paper so perfectly. Once Lowney told me he was the only student she ever had who could turn out almost perfect chapters, whole chapters, where she’d have to do very little editing. As soon as he wrote it, his stuff was ready to go to the publisher.

Kash: Was he a friendly guy?

Snedeker: Yes.

Kash: Would Tom goof off with the other colonists—play pong, swim or whatever?

Snedeker: Yes. He was very outgoing.

Kash: I’ve heard that Lowney believed in writers and all people having enemas. Do you know how she came to believe this and did she persuade you to do it?

Snedeker: Well, one time I asked her why you do enemas. She told me that she had learned about it from some of her Far Eastern readings and teachings. She said a tribe in India had observed this stork-like bird sticking their beak up their read-ends and giving themselves enemas. These storks were long-lived—like a hundred years old. So if it worked for them, it should work for us, these Indians reasoned, and they began the practice. Apparently it worked, at least Lowney believed it did, so she encouraged students to do the enemas. I wasn’t into it, but I remember Tom Chamales once came out of the Airstream trailer where he lived, and he was huge! He looked like he had about five gallons of water in his stomach. He was holding it, walking around, jigging it like jell-o, and in about ten minutes he was back in the trailer. I guess to relieve himself.

Kash: Do you remember anybody else who used to do enemas regularly?

Snedeker: Burt Bliss—he seemed to be into it.

Kash: Any other guys?

Snedeker: No, I never observed them.

Kash: Do remember what kind of stories you wrote when you were a colony member?

Snedeker: Well, it was just about life experiences I’d had by the age of eighteen: living with my uncle, carpenter work, cutting wood out in the woods at wintertime, motorcycle riding—my Uncle Johnie introduced all of us to motorcycle riding, including James Jones. My uncle was an accomplished motorcyclist. He’s the reason James Jones bought his first Harley-Davidson. That really made Lowney unhappy when Jim bought the Harley-Davidson. He was not a good rider. Good writer, but not a good motorcycle rider.

Kash: Did Jones have motorcycle accidents?

Snedeker: No, none that I ever knew of, but I’m surprised. But, boy, he immediately bought the studded leather jacket, and the motorcycle rider’s cap, and really got into the scene.

Kash: Did you ever have a chance to ride with Jim?

Snedeker: No, never did. He let me ride his motorcycle one time, though.

Kash: How far?

Snedeker: Just around town.

Kash: Now did you remain friends with any of the people on the Colony after your experience there?

Snedeker: No. I don’t know where any of them are or I would. I probably would if I knew how to contact them. I think several of them are dead.

Kash: Why did you eventually leave the Writers’ Colony?

Snedeker: Well, when they closed for the year—they always made their seasonal close in October—Lowney sent me to her friend Helen Chezney who lived in Hollywood, Florida. I stayed with Helen a couple of months, and after a while I found a flophouse where I lived for three months. I was broke. It was the coldest winter Florida had ever had. I got a job as a busboy, which would depend on tips—no tourists, no tips. And I had to sell my motorcycle, which I had ridden down there, for a hundred dollars to get a train ticket back to Marshall. Came back to Marshall flat broke, and I had a terrible cold. Then my uncle advised I join the military. So I joined the Army for two years.

Kash: After you returned to Illinois from the army, how have you made your living throughout most of your adult life?

Snedeker: Well, my Uncle Johnie was to play just as big a role in my adult life as he had in getting me involved with the Handy Writers’ Colony. The year before I lived on the colony, he built a room edition for a wealthy family in Marshall named Murphy. I used to go and visit on the job site there just like I did at the James Jones bachelor pad, and while I was visiting I became acquainted with the Murphy’s daughter, Dee Ann, who was 15 at the time—rich, spoiled, somewhat wild, and real sexy to be around. Dee Ann’s folks were one/third owners of a large stone quarry called Quality Lime, plus a farm, which were just outside of Marshall. Dee Ann was just the kind of girl Lowney would hate—she turned me on a lot more than writing. Anyway, Dee Ann and I married while I was in the army. She came and lived with me while I was stationed in El Paso, Texas, and she got pregnant with our first son, a boy named Van—we later had another boy and a girl. After I was discharged from the service, I went to work in the office at Quality Lime. I ended up getting along a lot better with her grandfather, Van Tarble; her uncle, Martin Tarble; and her father, Dean Murphy, than I did with her. They were all nice men. I worked real hard for them, and they have taken good care of me and my family for my entire life, because when I divorced Dee Ann in ’62, I stayed on with Quality Lime. I married my wife Sue in ’64, and I have stayed married to her ever since. Dee Ann passed away in 1966. I have always said that I was one of the few men that married money, then divorced out of it.

Kash: Do you have final recollections about Lowney?

Snedeker: I loved her dazzling white smile and her dark eyes, which seemed to be a Turner trait—I knew her brothers and they had dark eyes. Lowney just loved human beings. She was prone to take in the downtrodden. And she was so articulate. I just never knew anybody like her. It’s really hard to explain about Lowney—I’ve never known anybody like her in my whole life.

Kash: Did you ever have any contact with her after you left the Colony?

Snedeker: I wrote to her a few times, but then after I got married the relationship pretty well soured—probably due to my neglecting her—and I regret that I didn’t maintain a relationship, because she died in ’64.

Kash: Did you see her again, or Jim Jones, after your time at the Colony?

Snedeker: No. No, I never did.

Kash: Looking back, what strikes you the most about your time at the Colony and being part of history?

Snedeker: Well, holy cow. I’m really proud that I did that experience. I met a lot of nice people, especially Lowney. I lived in a group setting like that, which was so unorthodox in this country. Despite all the rumors, believe me, it was not a nudist colony. And to have known famous people is pretty important to me. I’ll never ever forget it.

JJ Symposium set for November 9 at EIU

The Eastern Illinois University History Department Chair and Professor Nora Pat Small and Dean and Professor Anita Shelton have recently announced that the annual James Jones Symposium will be held at EIU on Thursday, Nov. 9 from 1-4 p.m. in Buzzard Auditorium.

Dr. James MacLeod, University of Evansville, Evansville, Indiana, will be among those presenting. He will discuss the contributions of Evansville, Indiana, to World War II in the form of construction of landing craft. He has recently published Evansville in WW II.  The city manufactured hundreds of ships, thousands of fighter planes, and billions of other materials that made a huge contribution to the Allies’ eventual victory. MacLeod’s book explains how this industry came to be in Evansville, reveals the enormous impact that it had on its social, economic and cultural life.

Student scholarships for the James Jones Fund for the Study of the Experience of War in History, Literature, Theatre, Film and Music will be selected for presentation at the symposium.


Handy Colony compilation donated to Illinois libraries and students

More than 800 copies of Writings From the Handy Writers Colony, compiled by Helen Howe, Don Sackrider and George Hendrick, were donated to 804 public libraries in Illinois in the fall of 2016. Four hundred editions of the compilation, plus a number of copies of The Merry Month of May, were also given to the Marshall Public Library, Marshall, Illinois, at the time of the Walldogs mural project and screening of the musical From Here to Eternity in June 2016. Marshall librarian Alyson Thompson reported that all 400 copies have been given away, including those to Marshall High School for the JJLS’s annual “Valentine’s” contest. 

2016 James Jones First Novel Fellowship recipient named

imgres The 24th annual James Jones First Novel Fellowship has been awarded to Alison Murphy of Boston, Mass., for her manuscript Balagan, a novel. She was awarded first place and is the recipient of $10,000. The competition is sponsored by the James Jones Literary Society and the Wilkes University Creative Writing Program.

The first runner-up was Joel Freiburger of Chicago, Ill., for his novel The Mapmaker’s Daughter. Second runner-up was Gemma Cooper-Novack of Boston, Mass., for her novel, Watch You Disappear. Each runner-up recieved $1,000.

The James Jones First Novel Fellowship was established in 1992 to “honor the spirit of unblinking honesty, determination, and insight into modern culture as exemplified by (the writings of) James Jones.” It is awarded to a North American author of a first novel-in-progress. This year’s competition drew 634 submissions.

First Place:

Alison Murphy is a writer and program director at GrubStreet Creative Writing Center. A lifelong military brat, her first novel, Balagan, is a product of the years she spent as a young adult living in Israel during the second intifada. She is a graduate of GrubStreet’s 2014-2015 Novel Incubator program, and her nonfiction can be found in Psychology Today, Men’s Journal, and WBUR’s Cognoscenti, among other online publications. In her spare time, she teaches creative writing to inmates in the prison system and is working on developing local creative writing programs for military veterans. 

Set at the intersection of the second intifada in Israel and the Iraq war, Murphy’s novel, Balagan, tells the story of two American students whose lives are thrown into chaos after witnessing a suicide bombing. As the consequences of the attack spiral out of control, the effects stretching from Tel Aviv to war-torn Baghdad, their relationship to each other begins to mirror the relationship between the two wars.

First Runner-up:

Joel Freiburger’s work has been honored by the Faulkner-Wisdom Creative Writing Competition and the Penguin/Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. Most recently, Freiburger won a 2016 SDSU Conference Choice Award for The Mapmaker’s Daughter. After graduating from the University of Chicago, King’s College London, and the University of Notre Dame with degrees in liberal arts and philosophy, Freiburger studied with Aleksandar Hemon and Elizabeth Crane while studying for his master of fine arts degree at Northwestern University. He’s been a first mate at sea, an Odysseus scholar, a teacher, and a student traveler on a 12-week Eurail trip with little more than a journal, a backpack, and some lawn-mowing money. Joel grew up in New England, and now lives in Chicago with his wife and two daughters.

Freiburger’s novel, The Mapmaker’s daughter, is set in Estonia in the spring of 1934. When a scholarly mapmaker is killed, his daughter — Sinia Valk — plunges into Europe with the cryptic fragments of his library. She’ll contend with a genteel megalomaniac and a notorious art trafficker to find the rest of an ancient text: Homer’s lost epic, The Atlantida. As Sinia tries to sort her allies from her enemies, she crosses a postwar Mediterranean landscape, and untangles the puzzles of The Atlantida. To solve the final riddle she must join the megalomaniac who’s hunting her. They’ll form a treacherous bond with their knowledge, and retrace the story of Homer’s epic — the final voyage of Odysseus — to an island that gave rise to the myth of Atlantis.

Second Runner-up:

Gemma Cooper-Novack is a writer, arts educator, and writing coach. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in more than twenty journals, including Ballard Street Poetry Journal (Pushcart Prize nomination), Bellevue Literary Review (Pushcart Prize nomination), Cider Press Review, Hanging Loose, Santa Fe Writers Project, and Printer’s Devil Review. Gemma’s plays have been produced in Chicago, Boston, and New York, and she diablogs on sinnerscreek.com. She has been awarded multiple artist’s residencies from Catalonia to Virginia and a grant from the Barbara Deming Fund, and enjoys baking cookies and walking on stilts in her spare time. Her debut poetry collection We Might As Well Be Underwater will be published by Unsolicited Press in 2017.

In Cooper-Novack’s novel, Watch You Disappear, Maya Corelli has been obsessed with kidnappings ever since the year her mother left with Maya’s brother Devin. As Maya ages and faces more and greater rejection for her butch identity, she finds the stories of kidnapping more absorbing and more of an escape. When her freshman year of college begins, Maya falls passionately in love with an emotionally unstable partner, Katie, who happens to be the victim of an infamous kidnapping case. An intense, tumultuous year both in school and in Maya’s family ends with Katie’s suicide; embroiled in grief the next year, Maya is compelled to engage with the political activism of her compassionate roommate, a second fractured romance, and the return of her brother to her life.

Requests for guidelines for entering the annual James Jones competition should be sent, along with a stamped, self-addressed envelope, to James Jones First Novel Fellowship, c/o The Graduate Creative Writing Department, Wilkes University, 84 West South Street, Wilkes-Barre, PA 18766, or via email to jamesjonesfirstnovel@wilkes.edu. The submission deadline for entries is March 15 of each year.

Melville House to publish’13 James Jones winner

underground-fugue-grey-135x175Margot Singer’s novel, now titled Underground Fugue, the recipient of the 2013 James Jones First Novel Fellowship, will be published by Melville House in April 2017.

Underground Fugue interweaves the stories of four characters who are dislocated by shock waves of personal loss, political violence, and, ultimately, betrayal. Esther, an American recovering from the death of her adolescent son and the seeming dissolution of her marriage, moves to London to care for her dying mother; Lonia, Esther’s mother, is haunted by memories of fleeing Czechoslovakia on the eve of World War II; Javad, their next-door neighbor and an Iranian neuroscientist, struggles to connect with his college-aged son; and Javad’s son, Amir, a self-defined urban explorer, seeks identity and escape from his parents’ bickering. As Esther settles into her new life in London, she becomes fascinated by her neighbors–attracted to Javad and reminded of her own son by Amir. After the 7/7 terrorist attack, Esther “betrays” Amir to the local police. But Amir is no terrorist, and ultimately Esther must confront the consequences of her actions and their connection to the story of her mother’s past.

In addition to the James Jones First Novel Fellowship, Singer has won the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, the Reform Judaism Prize for Jewish Fiction, the Glasgow Prize for Emerging Writers, and an Honorable Mention for the PEN/ Hemingway Award for her story collection, The Pale Settlement. She is a professor of English at Denison University in Granville, Ohio.

Reflections on Jones’ WWII trilogy

By Ray Elliott, JJLS Board member and past-president

Note: This article was first published in the Robinson Daily News shortly after James Jones’ death in 1977  

Jones in Robinson, Nov. 1943     Despite Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s assurance that “old soldiers never die, they just fade away,” old soldier James Jones did die. Of congestive heart failure on May 9, 1977. But he refuses to fade away — yet. With the recent posthumous publication of Whistle, the final book in his World War II trilogy, he’s still hammering his realistic view of war and warfare at you like a drill instructor hammering soldiering into a raw recruit. And with much the same success.

Jones had to be a lifer, a not-so-endearing term for the career soldier. That’s about the only way to explain his lifelong love affair with the U.S Army, war and effects of war on the combat soldier. But it was a strange love affair, almost schizophrenic in nature. He loved the Army, yet he hated it. War fascinated him, yet it terrified him. The effects of war touched him deeply, made him a writer, yet they made him an outsider in general, in most literary circles specifically. Not an intellectual, no middle ground existed for him. His was a black and white world. You were either a part of his world and understood, or you weren’t a part of it and could never understand.

Enlisting in the Regular Army after graduation from Robinson High School in 1939, he spent the next five years soldiering. Five years which included being stationed at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii before, during and after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941; landing and fighting on Guadalcanal, being wounded in the head by a mortar round, returning to duty and finally being evacuated due to an old ankle injury; being shipped to an Army hospital in Memphis where he was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star (without a V for Valor) that he or none of his decorated comrades wore because wearing them was “considered contemptible display”; and finally receiving a medical discharge in 1944 after being returned to limited duty. All of which was experienced along with much more, by one character or another in his war trilogy.

And that’s the trilogy, three novels which stand alone as complete and separate works that are closely related in theme and subject: James Jones’ life in the Army as a peacetime Regular Army soldier, a combat soldier and a wounded veteran returning to a society that couldn’t understand what the combat soldier had necessarily become.

Regular lifer characters only wanted to be 30-year soldiers — writing and talking about the war and the Army, telling what he saw, what he did and what he heard. Jones said in his later years, “I write about war because it’s the only métier I’ve ever had.” That’s why he wrote about it better than anyone else. And with all his writing faults (style, syntax, verbosity, irrelevant details, point-of-view aberrations) that’s the value of the trilogy. It is an accurate portrayal of a cross section of American life and history as it was.

The first book in the trilogy, From Here To Eternity, won the National Book Award in 1952 and brought him fame and fortune as the most promising novelist to come out of World War II. That was the pinnacle of his success, and he never quite lived up to his promise in subsequent books unless he wrote about war. Ernest Hemingway, a mentor of sorts, contended that Jones was a one-novel author who would live off of his Eternity reputation for the rest of his life. Perhaps. But no matter.

In Eternity, set in the peacetime Army in pre-World War II Hawaii, Jones becomes the universal soldier in a way Hemmingway never did and began the process of what Jones later called “the evolution of a soldier.” He’s Prewitt, the rebel bugler, boxer, straight-duty soldier, who loves the Army, but hates the system that takes away his individualism and honor; he’s Warden, the cynical, hard-nosed company 1st Sgt., who dislikes officers and runs the company, taking care of his enlisted men without seeming to care about them; he’s Stark, the Mess Sgt., who feeds the troops well and runs the mess hall with interference from nobody, including Warden. Regular Army men, hard drinkers, all. Undoubtedly based on real soldiers. But Jones speaks for and as James Jones, too.

As the rugged individualist, Jones broke the language barrier in literature with Eternity. Realism in literature became a reality, something Hemingway, Henry Miller and a host of other writers had failed to accomplish. Many people who had stayed on the home front filling their pockets during the war didn’t like that. But life in the Army is often frank and brutal. And if art is to mirror life, no censorship, no barriers can exist. Jones mirrored the peacetime Army, with its adventurers, bums, drifters, many escaping the Depression, and its Regular Army non-commissioned officers and officers waiting for a war to test their manhood or earn their promotions in a way he couldn’t without the realism. It’s a man’s world where the strong survive and the weak perish. Still, the writing is not particularly impressive for the greater part of the book.

But then the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor. It’s a Sunday morning after a night of hard drinking, fighting and making the rounds of the whorehouses — the regular weekend for a soldier. Some of the men are eating breakfast when a blast rocks the mess hall.

“He (Warden) stopped in the doorway of the KP room and looked back at the mess hall. He remembered the picture the rest of his life. It had become very quiet and everybody had stopped eating and looked at each other.

“‘Must be doin’ some dynamitin’ down to Wheeler Field,’ somebody said tentatively…

“‘This is it,’ somebody said simply.

“Warden found his eyes and Stark’s were looking into each other. There was nothing on Stark’s face, except the slack relaxed peaceful look of drunkenness, and Warden felt there must not be anything on his either. He pulled his mouth up and showed his teeth in a grin, and Stark’s face pulled his mouth in an identical grin. Their eyes were still looking at each other…

“Down the street over the trees a big column of black smoke was mushrooming up into the sky. The men behind were crowding out the door…”

The evolution of a soldier had begun in earnest. Jones’ eyes were good, his mind clear. You begin to feel the power of his writing. And for most of the next 150 pages you see how the Japanese attack must have looked to those who were there. You see the grinning, waving Japanese pilot (who Jones actually saw) strafing Schofield Barracks, the beginning of a war, the birth of a new era for the United States and all the rest just as clearly as you see the excitement of Warden and Stark about the prospect of going to war, like two young boys about to have their first sexual experience. It makes all the faulty writing, detail after detail about each character and each mundane theme worth wading through in the peacetime Army to get to the real thing. Eternity may not be Jones best book, as he maintained it wasn’t, but it’s one of the best eyewitness accounts of the peacetime Army being forced into war, and the subsequent months following the attack that you’re likely to read anywhere.

It’s Jones at his best. You can even accept the compassionate prostitute Prewitt loved and the commanding officer’s cuckolding wife who loved Warden and had loved Stark. Even Prewitt’s death is acceptable. But for the benefit of the trilogy, which Jones would have us believe was conceived shortly after he began writing Eternity, Prewitt’s death was neither necessary nor realistic, despite Jones’ assurance that it was. In the author’s note to Whistle he said, “Unfortunately the dramatic structure — I might even say the spiritual content — of the book demanded that Prewitt be killed in the end of it. The import of the book would have would have been emasculated if he did not die.”   Hogwash. That sounds more like a defense of a trilogy concept that was developed after the success of Eternity and the relative failure of non-military books. Saying the concept of the trilogy was developed then does not make it so. As Jones once said, there are very few “honest men, including myself.”

Whatever, Jones wasn’t done with the Army and needed the characters he knew so well. Killing Prewitt seems even more unrealistic because he resurrected him in the second book of the trilogy, The Thin Red Line as Whitt. This was necessary, Jones said, because he couldn’t “resurrect him, and have him there again, in the flesh, wearing his same name.” So he changed his name. He also changed Warden to Welsh, Stark to Storm, Lt. Ross, an officer in the Schofield Barracks company, to Capt. Stein. Although Jones said the name changing might sound silly now, it wasn’t then. But then he did the same thing in Whistle where Whitt (he didn’t die on Guadalcanal) becomes Prell, Welsh becomes Winch, Storm becomes Strange, and Fife from The Thin Red Line becomes Landers. What bothers you most about all this name changing is that you know the characters are the same, yet they’re not. They’re not quite the same personalities. And the evolution of a soldier doesn’t account for it, despite the marked similarities. By using the same characters, Jones could have truly shown the evolution of a soldier, utilizing the subtle and not-so-subtle psychological changes each man went through as he progressed from peacetime soldier to combat soldier to wounded veteran trying to adjust to a changed society where he didn’t feel he fit and didn’t particularly want to. The simple name changes and resulting changes in characterization cause the trilogy to suffer in a way it should not have.

In WWII, an excellent book of personal remembrances and perspective of the war, complete with the war art, Jones said, “The truth is, 35 years has glossed it all over and given World War II a polish and a glow it did not have at the time.” No question about that. But that’s not the point. The point is that Jones’ memory wasn’t as good as it was when he wrote Eternity. His own aging, maturation even, had to change his perspective of the war, his philosophy, his person concern  — the Winch character in Whistle, for example, has congestive heart failure and must learn to cope with it as Jones did.

Even if the trilogy were conceived in 1946, as Jones said, it is shame that The Thin Red Line wasn’t published until 1962, 11 years, two books — one a post Pearl Harbor attack book, The Pistol — and another war after publication of Eternity; and that Whistle, the  “big, big” book on the war, wasn’t published until 1978, 27 years, nine books — another one on World War II and one on Vietnam — and yet another war after publication of Eternity. And at the end of his career at that. Had he written the trilogy when it was timely, perhaps he would have outgrown the war, grown as a writer to where he could have handled contemporary themes and lived up to his early promise. But that’s history.

Nor does it take a way from the fact that The Thin Red Line is one of the best, if not the best, books ever written about men in combat. Published 17 years after the end of the war, Jones’ attitude seems to have matured slightly — he maintained that his books were actually antiwar in scope — from his early excitement with an adolescent view of war; if this is not totally true in the book, then it certainly is in the dedication. It’s not without a touch of irony that he dedicates the book: “This book is cheerfully dedicated to those greatest and most heroic of all human endeavors, WAR and WARFARE; may they never cease to give us the pleasure, excitement and adrenal stimulation that we need, or provide us with the heroes, the presidents and leaders, the monuments which we erect to them in the name of PEACE.”

Again, as in Eternity, Jones is the universal soldier. Only this time the honor of the individual isn’t what’s at stake. Honor doesn’t keep you alive. Survival does; survival of the individual soldier in any possible way. And survival is all that counts in combat. The glory of war quickly vanishes. You see the collective behavior of a cross section of American men forced into a situation where they have no choice except to fight; you see man at his lowest, most base level. Patriotism means no more to Jones’ combat soldiers that it did to their later counterparts in Korea or Vietnam. Only in World War II there was nowhere to go. They fought and died. And the evolution of a soldier takes the final step.

Warden, who seemed eager to go to war at the time of Pearl Harbor — he gleefully went to the barracks roof to shoot at Japanese fighter planes — isn’t quite so eager to fight as Welch on Guadalcanal. He’s still cynical and hard-nosed and takes care of his men. But “the way Welch chose to see it, he had beaten the Depression in his country and had outsmarted the nation, and now today, November 10, 1942, he was preparing to pay for it.” That sounds like a mature Jones saying, “There ain’t no free lunches, baby. You’ve had it, now pay for it.” Welch knows that war is for one thing: Property. With which he wants nothing to do. He seems almost content with his canteens full of gin; he volunteers for nothing, does his job and usually nothing more — exactly what Jones later said he did. Not much glory in that. It does make survival easier.

Only Whitt seems to be unconcerned about survival. Still the rebel, he has been transferred to another company because he is a troublemaker. But he rejoins the company to fight when he pleases and according to whether he’s under the command of someone he respects. The soldiers’ soldier, Whitt swears he’ll never return to the company when the green company commander makes a tactical error and all but two of a squad-size patrol Witt is on are killed. Shortly before the company leaves for New Georgia, however, Witt returns. His loyalty is with the company. But he’s still Prewitt, fighting for his individuality, demanding that his superiors be as competent a soldier as he is. Yet he’s a different man.

Jones’ understanding of the emotions of men in combat and his knowledge of military tactics is overwhelming. You participate, vicariously, in the strategies and battles for each hill. You feel with the men, for them. And you know what he’s articulating what thousands of combat veterans know but slowly fade from memory as the years pass, and they begin to lose the feeling of what it was like to a degree — the de-evolution of a soldier. Perhaps that’s why Jones says at the end of the novel as the survivors of C-for- Charlie — a puerile designation he uses for Charlie Company — leave the island to prepare for the New Georgia campaign: “One day one of their number would write a book about all this, but none of them would believe it because none of them would remember it that way.”

Or perhaps it’s because Jones is the universal soldier, believing that “a writer should be able to be everybody,” remembering it all. Even the old cigar-chomping doctor who treats Fife for an identical head wound that Jones received on Guadalcanal has evolved as a soldier. Fife wants to be evacuated, even though the wound isn’t serious. “Quite suddenly his (the doctor’s) smile disappeared from around the cigar butt in it. His eyes got flatter, as if some veil had fallen over them…

“Old Doc Haines stared back at him obdurately now. ‘I don’t make the rules, son,’ he said. ‘I just try to live by them.’”

Fife goes back. He has no choice. This time he learns that he too can kill. And does. Death becomes so casual that it no longer affects you. Death is a part of the brutality of war; it’s natural — as long as it’s not you own. But as Prewitt thinks in Eternity, “‘When you cut with life you had to use the house deck, not your own. ’”Combat doesn’t deal a very good hand, and Jones leaves you with no illusions that it does. Even for the survivors.

That’s particularly true in Whistle, the last book of the trilogy and the beginning of the de-evolution of the soldier, which wasn’t quite completed when Jones died. Just a little more than three chapters remained unfinished, not even written, really. But Jones dictated notes for the remaining chapters up until two days before his death with the urgency of an old soldier bent on completing his mission before dying. He still had something he wanted to say about war and wanted to etch his place in literary history with what he wrote best about. Posterity will undoubtedly grant him that in spite of his intellectual critics of today.

The final chapters were written by his friend, Willie Morris, in synopsis form. Not a very satisfactory conclusion to a lifer’s career who said in the author’s note, written in Paris in 1973 before he wrote WWII, that “It (Whistle) will say just about everything I have ever had to say, or will ever have to say, on the human condition of war and what it means to us, as against what we claim it means to us.” The “dramatic structure,” even the “Spiritual content,” may suffer because of the synopsis ending. But if you’re still interested in war, Jones still has something to say. If you’re not interested in his war, he has something to say about other ones —past, present and future. Still, it’s a very personal book, reflecting his personal concerns of today, coupled with those of long ago.

Four of the old company go to a Luxor, Tennessee, (a combination of Memphis and Nashville) Army hospital after being evacuated from New Georgia. All four have “the peculiar numbness of soul that combat caused in everybody.” Only Winch, the 1st Sgt., isn’t wounded. He has fever, hypertension and congestive heart failure. “Death,” the narrator tells you, “usually occurred from congestive heart failure in the fifties.” Jones died of it at 55. Winch quits his hard drinking. Jones quit, too. Winch drinks a glass of white wine occasionally. So did Jones. Both were two-fisted drinkers whose drinking was almost legendary. Winch still has his men to take care of in spite of his condition. Jones had a trilogy to complete. Unlike Jones, Winch doesn’t die in the end; he went mad from the terror of his combat memories.

This is not to say that Winch is Jones. Jones is still the universal soldier, the old soldier now, pouring a lifetime of study of war and warfare into his characters. Back “home” the characters in Whistle think much differently than they did in the first two books of the trilogy. Shortly after the hospital ship arrives in San Francisco, Winch goes on liberty and gets drunk (before he quits drinking). Walking through an area where “all the old duffers (were) on their soapboxes, droning out their worn-out, ancient, old-fashioned political speeches,” Winch gives one of them a five-dollar bill to borrow the soapbox.

“The concept for it was one he had had quite a while. It had occurred to him first on Guadalcanal, last year, lying up under a mortar barrage. He had developed and expanded it later, playing with it at times when he sat alone drinking, or watched from a ridge with the company commander as their overheated, mud-breathing platoons tried to advance. He had summarized the whole concept in the slogan he had worked out for it, ‘Soldiers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your guns.’ That was what he began to shout from the soapbox.

“A crowd of amused servicemen formed fairly quickly. At first they were laughing, and cheering him on, but some began to get disturbed as he went on. ’Hey, you,’ he singled out a private. ‘What are you making a month? Thirty-eight bucks, right? What do you think you’d be making if we organized, hah? No, don’t laugh. Think about it. What couldn’t we do, if we were organized? Every country needs us, right? Everybody ahs unions, why not us? Jap soldiers, German soldiers, English soldiers, US soldiers.  Russians, French, Australians. All united. We’d corner the market. Hell, we could take the explosive charges out of the mortar shells and artillery! Put white flour in them instead! How would that be? ‘ A couple of derogatory whistles came from the back of the crowd. ‘You don’t like that? Why not? No more casualties!’ Winch bellowed in his command voice. ‘You simply walk to the rear. We could have arbitration committees to decide where the battles would be held.’ He spread his arms. ‘No more jungles, right? Who’d pick a jungle?’”

A mad man speaking, perhaps. But a mad man trying to make sense out of the horror of his combat experience in a war that he knows will soon be forgotten and the countries friendly again, like little boys who become fast friends soon after a ferocious fight. He goes on to say that he’s more like a Jap or a German 1st Sgt. than he is like a civilian. Which is the problem you see each of the men coming back with him have. Prell, the Medal of Honor recipient, has taken .50 caliber machine rounds in his thighs and is fighting to save his legs. Strange has an injured hand. Landers has a smashed ankle. All are faced with the problem of adjusting to a new life where the enemy is a changed society, torn apart by war. And there are no introduction centers to help them assimilate into that society, as there were when they entered the Army and began preparing for their evolution as soldiers. You experience the agonies and frustrations each of these men has as he copes with the pain and depression from his combat experience and wounds and the shock of the world around him.

Before going mad, Winch does what he can for each of them — even though they all hate him. None of them make it. Strange finds his wife in love with an officer who did things to her sexually that Strange had never done, that he found perverted. Taking he $7,000 he and his wife were going to use to open a restaurant after the war, he throws it all away on a hotel suite, booze and women for himself and his old company. On the way to Europe after being returned to duty, he commits suicide by jumping over the side of the ship. Landers receives the discharge he thinks he wants. With it in his hand, he walks into the path of an oncoming car. Prell conquers his last battle, saves his legs only to pick a fight in a bar while on a bon-selling tour and is killed when a soldier hits him in the head with the big end of a pool cue.

The evolution of a soldier and his de-evolution are complete. Not a very pretty picture. But these are the men that fight the wars in this country, in every country. You may not like the picture Jones paints, the language he uses, but he shows you the men and the way they live while they’re off fighting the wars in the name of freedom, high ideals and moralistic philosophies conceived by people who don’t fight the wars and don’t comprehend the cost to those who do.

Critics who find fault with more than Jones’ writing (which improved through the years) have said that the only thing he found meaningful in life other than war was sex. And casual, mechanical sex at that. Perhaps. But Jones wrote about soldiers, about war and warfare. The sex, like the drinking, the fighting, the gambling, is an integral part of soldering, as real as life itself. And James Jones wrote about soldiering the way it was, is. He spent his whole life doing it, a life well spent. Perhaps he’ll fade away now, but like him or not, you’ll know he was here — if you read his war trilogy. Too bad we in society don’t learn to avoid war from the sordid picture he paints of the effects.