Late that morning, he sat at one end of the bar in the Zebra Room while William stocked liquor bottles and wiped down the counter in preparation for opening the bar. Herman nibbled at the last crusts of a ham sandwich and nursed a strong coffee as he stared at the scrap of paper Gloria had given him. The fragrance of her perfume still
lingered. She had made a lip imprint like Molly used to, but hers was strawberry pink rather than scarlet. Below the kiss she had scrawled her name and address. He wondered
if he would ever see her again. In a few hours he would be on the bus back up to Paso Robles and from there to Camp Roberts. Monday morning he would be transported to Fort Ord. There was no way of knowing when, or if, he would return to Los Angeles.
William paused in front of him, the disinfectant-smelling counter cloth stopped in mid-swipe. “Everyone misses you around here. The patrons keep asking for you, especially the ones who come in without ties.” His friend grinned and slapped the bar with his hand. “Come on, soldier boy. You should be too tough by now to have a hangover.”
Herman looked up. He ran his hand over the top of his head. The close-cropped stubble of his army cut reminded him of the haircut his mother had given him in Meiningen. He shook his head to dispel the memory.
“Not a hangover exactly. I’m not sure what to expect any more. It’s depressing. My life keeps changing, and I don’t seem to have any say in it. Every time things get good, something else happens. Everything turns on a dime and I have no control. Sometimes I don’t know who I am or where I belong.” He took a sip of the now cold coffee. “I’m proud to be in the US Army and I want to help kick that damned Hitler into hell. But I love LA and . . . well, especially the parties and the girls . . . finally, the girls! ”
“Hey, guys!” One of the bellhops from the hotel burst in from the lobby. “Turn up the radio. All hell’s breaking loose in Hawaii.”
William reached under the bar and turned the knobs of the small radio he kept there. “What’s happened?”
Before the bellhop could catch his breath, the radio blared and an excited voice filled the room. The announcer was in midsentence. “. . . in flames. It’s terrible. Jap planes everywhere. Bombs like rain. The USS Arizona is at the bottom of Pearl Harbor.”
Another announcer’s voice, this one speaking with deadly calm, broke into the report. “All military personnel are ordered to return to their stations immediately. All leaves and passes are cancelled indefinitely. Repeat. All military personnel . . .”
Herman’s hand shook as he set down his cup unevenly. A single splash of coffee landed on his cuff, but he hardly noticed. “Jeez . . . God!” He stood up. His knees felt shaky. “I have to go. We’re in the war for sure now.” He grabbed his jacket from the back of the bar stool. War could bring anything. He might never return to Los Angeles, not alive anyway. He reached his right hand over the bar. “Thanks, William. For everything.”
His friend grasped Herman’s arm and palm in a two-handed shake. “Good luck. If there’s war, I’ll join up in spite of my flat feet. They won’t be able to keep me out.”
William squeezed his hand hard. “I’ll be thinking of you. Keep in touch.”
“I’ll write.” Herman bolted toward the lobby and the street. The small scrap of paper with Gloria’s lip print floated from the bar counter and settled gently to the floor.
Title: Immigrant Soldier, The Story of a Ritchie Boy
Author: K. Lang-Slattery
Genre: Historical Fiction
Herman watches in horror as his cousin and a friend are arrested by the SA. As a Jew, he realizes it is past time to flee his homeland, a decision that catapults him from one adventure to another, his life changed forever by the storm of world events. Part coming-of-age story, part immigrant tale, part World War II adventure, Immigrant Soldier, The Story of a Ritchie Boy follows Herman as he evolves from a frightened and frustrated teenager looking for a place to belong into a confident and caring US Army Intelligence officer serving in the Third Army. The reader is swept along as the hero experiences fear, romance, loyalty, disappointment, friendship, and compassion in his quest for an understanding of hate and forgiveness.
Kathryn Lang Slattery is a published author of fiction and non-fiction for youth and has become an expert on many aspects of the Ritchie Boys of WWII.
Born during World War II and raised in 1950s Southern California, she enjoyed a childhood filled with reading, drawing, and long days at the beach. College took her to Los Angeles where she studied art and English at UCLA, earning a BFA. She then travelled to Mexico City where she did graduate work in art and education at the University of the Americas. The years afterward passed, filled with teaching art, English, and cooking, and traveling around the world, including a 2 year car trip through Central America, Europe, the Middle East and the Indian sub-continent. Later she returned to her hometown, where she raised a daughter and a son and devoted over 20 years to Girl Scouts as a volunteer. Finally she returned to her early love of writing, concentrating first on creating stories and articles for young people. She has been published in several highly rated magazines for the youth market, including Spider, Ladybug, Jack and Jill, Boys’ Life, and Faces.
Immigrant Soldier, The Story of a Ritchie Boy, her first adult novel, is based on her uncle’s World War II experiences. More than a decade spent researching, interviewing Ritchie Boys, and turning a true story into fiction became an odyssey of discovery. “I wanted to tell his story,” she says, “because it was different from any other Holocaust story I had read. The young Jewish hero is not a victim, but a young man who gradually grows from a frightened and frustrated teenager, looking for a place to belong, into a confident US Army Intelligence officer who struggles with the conflicting emotions of hate and forgiveness.”
Kathryn lives in Laguna Beach, California, only steps from her childhood home, where she is surrounded by trees, birds, and her vegetable garden. Besides writing, her main interests are travel to foreign places, creative gourmet cooking, pastel painting, and time with family and friends. She finds tranquillity simply by looking out her large living-room windows to her view of one tall sycamore, her lush garden, and the natural hillsides beyond.