Thursday, November 08, 2018

"The Doolittle Raiders: What Heroes Do After The War"

"As a grammar school kid in Willows … in the late 1940s," George Nolta writes, he met a man named Jimmy who was on a hunting trip with a group that included Nolta's uncles Floyd and Dale. "Jimmy" turned out to be Jimmy Doolittle, the man who commanded "sixteen B-25s that took off from the deck of the USS Hornet on April 18, 1942. Each carried a crew of five: pilot, copilot, navigator, bombardier, and flight engineer/gunner."

The mission, America's response to Pearl Harbor, was "the first bombing raid on Japan during World War II." Ted Lawson, pilot of the seventh crew, told the story in "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo," written with newspaper columnist Robert "Bob" Considine. It was turned into a movie starring Spencer Tracy as Doolittle, Van Johnson as Lawson, and Phyllis Thaxter as Ellen, Ted's wife.

The Lawsons eventually settled in Chico. Ted died in 1992 "and is buried in the Chico Cemetery." After Nolta, who now lives in Citrus Heights, published a piece on Ellen for the Colusi County Historical Society, the two became friends. Ellen asked Nolta if he would use her research on the crewmembers to create a book documenting their lives, not only pre-raid but post-raid.

The book is called "The Doolittle Raiders: What Heroes Do After The War" ($16.99 in paperback from Schiffer Publishing); its vivid and clearly written narratives trace the accomplishments, and the heartbreak, of the eighty Raiders. Sixty-four survived; the remaining were lost in a crash landing, drowned, or tortured and executed by the Japanese.

In an email Nolta notes that "some of the Raiders flew up to the Willows Airport to do some last-minute short takeoff practice after their planes had been serviced at McClellan Field in Sacramento. …" 

Doolittle received the Medal of Honor and late in his life told a writer that "I believe every person has been put on this earth for just one purpose: to serve his fellow man. … If he does, his life will have been worthwhile." He was ninety-six when he died in 1993. Richard Cole, his copilot, the only surviving Raider, celebrated his 103rd birthday in September 2018.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

"Murder At The Columbarium"

The novels of Chico writer Emily Gallo ( trace the interconnected lives of some unlikely friends. Her new tale focuses on San Francisco's famous Columbarium, a real place on Lorraine Court "with the walls containing thousands of niches holding urns of every variety."

Jed Gibbons, "a tall, sinewy African-American in his early sixties," and a survivor of the Jonestown massacre in Guyana, has become the caretaker. His wife, Monica, is a social worker at Glide Church and HIV positive. One morning, as Jed opens the gate in front of the columbarium, he finds the body of a woman strangled to death with her own hijab. And more: A baby, alive, lying next to her.

"Murder At The Columbarium" ($13.95 in paperback from CreateSpace; also for Amazon Kindle) is by turns an engaging mystery (Jed plays detective and comes under suspicion himself) and a family drama (Jed wants to adopt the child but Monica is not so sure given their age and her condition). At least they can provide foster care for little Aja (the name they choose), but it's clear Jed is smitten, even as he tries to find the child's relatives and (perhaps) relinquish Aja.

San Francisco police and the FBI get involved, and some strange doings go down at the columbarium, from vandalism to a neo-Nazi, tattooed with "1488," who buys a niche and installs an urn in the shape of a KKK hood. A couple of mobster-types visit the columbarium as well, and other unsavory characters seem to come and go. The solution to the case has international implications.

Eventually Jed is led to Garberville and a pot farm run by an old musician named Dutch Bogart. Jed's friends help care for Aja, including Tony, who takes over as caretaker for a while, and Malcolm and Savali (a "third-gender" Samoan).

The novel's inclusivity is never preachy but rather a kind of gentle force against those who would take another's life.

Gallo will be signing copies of her books during "Mystery At Monca" (the Museum of Northern California Art at 900 Esplanade in Chico) on Thursday, November 8 from 6:00-8:00 p.m. There will be mystery games, refreshments, and admission is free.