Genealogy and discovering house histories are Kim Wolterman’s forte, but recently she published a book about her father’s experiences in the China-Burma-India theatre of WWII. From Buckeye to GI: Leroy C. Kubler, The War Years 1942-1945, was released in time for Veterans Day this year and is a tribute to her father and his service to this country. The book contains a lot of historical information that would be particularly interesting to veterans from that theatre and their families. Veterans Day actually is the anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended WWI, but it now honors all U.S. war veterans and military servicemen and women.
Kim, how did you come to write the book? Were there letters to home involved?
When my father passed away a lot of personal items that had belonged to him and my mom were transported to my house in St. Louis. Among them were photo albums and all of my dad’s papers – financial, military, sheet music that he had written. As I began to put all of the war-related items together I realized that together they told a story about my dad’s military service. My mother had saved the letters that my dad had written to her from India, and when she died in 1989 my sister and I left them undisturbed in her dresser. Unfortunately after my dad died the letters were no longer in the drawer. I suppose at some point my dad just tossed them out.
The book looks to be mostly factual. Is this more a history or a memoir? Did your father ever tell his war-time stories to family?
The book is actually a combination of history and memoir. My dad was a bit unusual for a veteran in that he did not mind talking about his military service. In the book I have recounted some of his stories, but as I looked at the documents and photos he had saved I found myself researching the different places where he had been stationed as well.
Did you know from the start you wanted this to be more than just for your family? What made you decide to publish for the public?
When I began writing the book I approached it from the standpoint of writing it for the public. As a genealogist I recognized the significance of the documents I held in my hands. In general I feel that the stories of the WWII veterans need to be told, but in my dad’s case he had kept so many historical documents from his time in service that I knew other people would be interested in seeing them as well. The China-Burma-India Theater has not had much written about it – even during the War it was referred to as the “forgotten theater.” The stories that have been told are those of the “Hump” pilots. My dad was the loading supervisor at the Chabua, India, air base, responsible for making sure the planes of those pilots were loaded properly.
You started this project after your father died. What kind of difficulties did that cause in the writing and how did you work around them. Were other family members able to help?
It definitely would have been helpful to write this while my dad was still alive because I could have captured more of his personal stories and gained further knowledge about the photographs he had taken. But also as I began to do research for the book I found so many websites I would have loved to share with him. I have become email penpals with a Navy veteran who was on the same ship with my dad to and from India. And I met a woman whose dad was transported to India on the voyage. How interested he would have been to read all the veteran postings on the China-Burma-India Theater website!
You have a lot of photos and documents and such included in the book. What were your sources for those, and were they easy to get? You didn’t have one of those boxes of unlabeled photos, did you? How did you organize the book?
As I mentioned my dad left behind wonderful historical documents and photos. Most of them were labeled, but some were not. Also my Navy penpal shared with me resources for the USS General Anderson naval ship. I decided the best way to organize the book was chronologically.
This book provides a visual and historical glimpse into a small but important piece of WWII history. As I wove all the pieces together I perhaps for the first time began to truly understand the enormous sacrifices that the men and women who served in WWII had made in order to protect the very fabric upon which America had been built. I would encourage anyone with a veteran in their family to document their story. It deserves to be told.
Kim Wolterman is author of Who’s Been Sleeping in MyBed(room), which explains how to research the history of a St. Louis County, Missouri, home, and an e-book, Keys to Unlocking House History, which is a resource for house researchers anywhere in the U.S. She lives in a century home in a National Historic District of a St. Louis suburb and provides consulting services to others who want to learn the history of their older homes. Kim’s house history research help is at My House History, and you can read about her writing journeys at Write Formation blog.
PS: From Buckeye to GI takes the usual time to ship from Amazon, which is playing bullying games with a number of small publishers lately.