Love at War: a WWII Narrative

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Highlighting the facts behind Historical Romance with Viola Russell and her novel, Love at War.

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Victory Parade at Bremerhaven, 12 May 1945

I began writing my novel Love at War after reading letters my Uncle Russell wrote home during World War II. Russell wrote a series of letters to my grandparents (his parents) and to his wife Vivian. Vivian also wrote him voluminous letters. The letters made it home; unfortunately, Russell, or Ruddy to his family, did not. He died in Bremen after the war’s official end. The letters inspired me. He often couldn’t say where he was or what his battalion was doing. The letters to my grandparents attempted to reassure them of his safety. He wanted them to look after his wife and baby daughter. He wrote of boot camp and prepared them for his setting out for overseas. The greetings to his wife were deeply romantic, erotic, and sensual. Her letters to him were equally romantic and were filled with longing. Tragically, Russell died after DDay while his troop were collecting ammunition in the Bremen Enclave. My other uncles also served in the war; they returned but didn’t discuss their time in battle very much.

Love at War is set in New Orleans, my home and that of my family for generations. My mother often told me of the war and how that conflict changed their lives and the lives of so many Americans. I wanted to tell the story of that time, and that desire rekindled after my mother’s death. I read those letters from my Uncle Russell and stared at the pictures of all of my uncles in uniform. No family member was at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941; however, that event changed the course of the United States. The aftermath of the war brought both tragedy and prosperity.

The attack on Pearl Harbor brought us into a war that was very unpopular with Americans. Many held staunchly isolationist views and did not want to enter into a European conflict; however, Pearl Harbor changed minds. In many ways, the events of that day illustrated a massive failure on the part of United States intelligence. Some officials believed that any attack by Japan would take place against European colonies in the South Pacific, not against Pearl. Still others felt any aggression would come from Germany. Pearl Harbor took the United States by surprise, as Roosevelt described it—a day of infamy.

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USS Virginia, Dec 7, 1941, U.S. Navy, Office of Public Relations, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In my novel, George, the son of a poor but proud New Orleans family, is on the USS Oklahoma at the time of the bombing. That fateful day shapes George’s future and propels him onto many dangerous missions. Historically, the attack devastated the Pacific fleet. The Japanese destroyed twenty naval vessels. America lost 2,400 citizens, and what I found interesting was that some of them were civilians. The horror began early on a Sunday morning. Many families were preparing for church services or eating leisurely breakfasts. Every battle ship suffered massive damage. The USS Arizona and the USS Utah could not be repaired. Over one thousand men were trapped on the Arizona. In Love at War, George’s wife Barbara is one civilian who dies as she makes her way to the burning harbor. Sailors and civilians died in a brutal, devastating fashion. The impact of that day shapes George as well as his whole family.

Pearl Harbor galvanized and united the country. Americans enlisted in droves. The war changed the face of America. Women took on roles once dominated by men. My mother had a picture of a female cousin driving a streetcar in wartime. Women worked in munitions factories, and women served in the medical corps in greater numbers. They also were granted officer status as nurses. Nuala, the heroine of Love at War, engages in espionage to help the Allies when she believes her sniper husband is killed in the line of duty. Nuala, like many women, rose in the military ranks. Minorities also saw their lives changed as a result of the war. During World War II, the troops were segregated; however, the brave examples of soldiers and aviators like the Tuskegee Airmen soon eliminated such discrimination in the service. Civil rights groups after the war reminded government officials that brave men of many colors served this country in its time of need. American became a world power and prospered after the conflict ended.

Love at War tells the story of one family caught in those turbulent times. Nuala Comeaux, her husband Keith, and her brothers George and Will play pivotal roles in many of the events of that era. Though George takes center stage in Pearl Harbor, the whole family meet the challenges posed by the war.

About the Book: Love at War

Nuala Comeaux and her brothers are part of a typical working-class family living life on the brink of World War II. Like most Americans, they pray war won’t come their way, but Nuala is more preoccupied with her budding romance.  Keith Roussell is handsome and intoxicatingly sexy.  Nuala willingly gives into his charms, but soon, the tide of war will engulf Nuala and her family.  Nuala marries Keith, and soon, Keith and her brothers are overseas, facing the enemy.  Keith’s talent with a rifle earns him the respect of the top brass, and he soon works as a sniper under the command of ranking officers. When Nuala learns of Keith’s death at the hands of a dangerous German general, she joins the female branch of the military.  From there, she is recruited for OSS and joins her highly-decorated brothers on clandestine operations.  Even though patriotism plays a part in her motivation, Nuala is also consumed with the desire to seek revenge for the murder of her sniper-husband.  Keith was betrayed, and she will hunt the man down who murdered him.   What will she learn? How will she survive?

An Excerpt~

Barbara glanced at the clock. 7:55. George would be home soon. She had to start that pie. “Mutter, I called about the banana pie. How much cinnamon do you put in it?” 
Magda dove into a detailed description of the ingredients needed for the pie. Barbara interrupted, “I think I did okay with the crust, but I need to know about —.” Then, she heard a deafening roar outside her house. “Mutter, I’d better go. There’s some commotion going on outside. Can hardly hear yaja’. I’ll tell George you send love. Bye!” 
Could the Navy be doing some drill on Sunday? Barbara strode up the stairs to the veranda with her cup in hand. God, did the Navy ever give anybody a break? It was Sunday, for God’s sakes. Barbara pushed open the door leading out to the covered balcony. The wicker chairs had toppled over with the force of the wind, and the umbrella sheltering the table fluttered briefly against the tumultuous gales, broke free, and floated on air until a strong current lifted it into space. With the wind came a deafening churning. As a child, her parents had taken her and her brothers to watch to the trains speed past along Airline Highway and along the overpass on Canal Boulevard. The ground has shaken with their approach. Well, Tthere were no trains in the sky. 
Barbara dashed to the edge of the balcony. Her gaze searched wildly for whatever had brought the wind and the cacophony sounding in her ears. Then, she saw them. Planes! Planes not like any she’d ever seen. They flew low and high. “What the hell —.” she began. The scarlet sun etched on the planes blazed at her as she stared, paralyzed. She tried to count but lost track. These weren’t Navy or Army planes. Who in hell were they? Then, one pilot flew so close that Barbara could see his profile. He turned to her and grinned broadly. The cup fell from her hand, hurtling to the ground far below. She watched as it fell. The light brown liquid spread through the air, making contact with the ground before the cup. The cup somersaulted though the air, spiraling away from her like some meteoric projectile. The tiny crash of the cup was lost in the mind-numbing sound of propellers beating against the drone of engines. The whole moment was like the slow motion sequences she’d seen in movies at the Joy Theater with George.
Barbara’s mouth went slack. She felt her throat constrict and go dry as she remembered the conversations in the canteens, the markets, and even the clubs on Pearl. War would come, people said casually. Since we’d frozen Japanese assets and put an embargo on oil, Japan might cause trouble for us, too. The talk, the talk! It had all been so casual as they danced and drank in local clubs. She swayed against George’s body in those candlelit clubs as he whispered into her ear. He’d take his skills in the Navy and find a good job after this whole mess. The future was theirs. Children and prosperity lay in their future. She gazed in horror, and a horrible realization hit her with the force of a hammer. Those planes were going to Pearl. 
Staring with wide eyes, Barbara watched as the first missiles fell into the water and exploded, shattering the Sunday morning quiet. Billowing black smoke rose from the water and rocked the nearby ships. Men on deck scurried as their commanders shouted orders. Barbara’s hands flew to her face as a missile crashed into the USS Utah. Searing flames and suffocating black smoke filled the air as the ship began to list. She heard screams and watched as some sailors fell into the churning water. Their cries echoed through the harbor. Barbara turned on her heel and raced to the harbor.

Susan-at-Mardi-Gras-225x300 Highlighting Historical Romance About the Author

Viola Russell is the pseudonym for Susan Weaver Eble.  A homegrown New Orleanian, she holds a doctorate in English literature from Texas A & M University.  She has traveled far and wide and relishes the memories she has made in places as distant as England, Ireland, Canada, and Jamaica and as near as Mississippi, Texas, Oklahoma, California, and Massachusetts. She lives with her husband Ben, the love of her life, in a New Orleans cottage and is most comfortable at her computer creating the worlds that drift into her imagination.

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Caroline Warfield, Author

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