I’ve got a terrific idea for a stage play, a feature film or a documentary movie. However, I cannot be the person to write it. I’ll explain why, but first, a little background.
I was trying to organize bins full of family photos that I’ve inherited when I came across a bundle of V-Mail sent home by my father, when he was in the U.S. Army during WWII. As I learned while reading them, he’d asked his mother to save them, because he thought he’d like to read them later.
These letters were gems! I don’t want to go into too much detail, but they allowed me to meet my father as a very young man (he was only 17 when war broke out and the Pennsylvania National Guard – along with all the other state’s was made part of the U.S. Army. He served 5 years. He landed at Normandy during D-Day + 6, got to see people living in London subways, visited Buchenwald after it was liberated, voted in his first presidential election – by mail – and mused about the just-used atom bomb (“It’s a good thing…or is it?”).
I wrote a short play based on the letters called “Jack Writes Home.” It was performed recently online by St. Dunstan’s Theatre. Click here If you’d like to see it.
For that play and the non-fiction book I’m writing about the letters and my family history, I did some research, in order to provide context for what my father was writing about. I was intrigued about a reference he made to racial strife. Digging deep into this unknown (to me) chapter of history, I was astounded at the amount of violent conflict that occurred between Black and white G.I.’s in Great Britain, during the war. A common scenario seemed to involve Black soldiers socializing with white British women – and white soldiers taking offense at that. There were small fights and very large battles involving many men. There were serious injuries, fatalities and courts-martial. The Brits must have been horrified at how Americans were fighting each other when there were other enemies with which to content. In an effort to separate the two, the Army took to granting passes on different days for soldiers of different races.
In an incident that occurred stateside, some G.I.s were being transported to an army camp in Arizona when their train stopped in a small town in Louisiana for a meal. The Black G.I.s were not allowed to eat in any of the local restaurants. They got to eat in the train depot cafeteria kitchen. While they were there, a group of white German P.O.W.s were brought into the depot, under guard, and allowed to eat in the actual cafeteria. The Black G.I.s were understandably furious. One wrote an eloquent letter to Yank magazine, expressing his outrage that the enemy soldiers were getting better treatment than men who were prepared to lay down their lives for the United States. The letter got an enormous number of reader responses, most of them agreeing that it was an outrage.
As a writer, I know a good story when I stumble across one. This side of WWII needs to be explored and written about, but it needs to be done by a Black writer, not co-opted by a white one. No matter how hard I try, I will never have the perspective that a Black writer would bring to this.
I’d be happy to share my research with someone who wanted to write about this. Any takers???