Monday, April 13, 2009

The True Military Family Story Behind the Novel THE WOMEN OF CAMP SOBINGO

Marilyn Celeste Morris is the author of the novel THE WOMEN OF CAMP SOBINGO. Here is Marilyn to tell you first about the true story and then how she came to write a novel about this time in her life. You can read more about Marilyn at her website, and below is her dedication of this guest post to her mother:

Dedication: To my mother, Frances Garrett Morris, who at the age of 25, packed up her two children, took a train across the country to board a military transport ship bound for, literally, the far ends of the earth in order to join her husband in a foreign country that had few modern conveniences. Yet she made a home for her family. And when I asked her years later, “Mom, how did you manage to do all that?” she merely replied, “It was expected of me.”

There really was a Camp Sobingo located outside the capitol city of Seoul, South Korea, at the end of WWII. This military compound’s cookie-cutter “quarters” were home to the women and children who joined their army officer husbands during the U.S. Occupation.

The camp had a school, a post exchange, a dispensary, a commissary, and even a movie theatre (think MASH). Ever-present, however, was the military presence, both Korean and our own U.S. forces as well as the tyranny of the Russians located across the 38th parallel, who merely annoyed the dependents with the random denial of electricity to the American contingent.

Most of the Americans had deployed to other assignments before June 25, 1950, when North Korea invaded South Korea. Those remaining escaped safely, but “The Land of the Morning Calm” would never be the same.

In 1954, my father was ordered back to Korea as part of the Military Advisory Group. He took a short drive to what remained of Camp Sobingo and sent snapshots of our former quarters (Hq.G-27), which had been pockmarked by aerial strafing, and natives were stripping the floorboards for fuel.

The window, where I had sat and dreamed a nine-year-old’s dreams and played with my homemade dollhouse populated by models cut from the Sears, Roebuck catalog was boarded up. More pockmarks surrounded the framework.

An unusual childhood, one might correctly assume, yet I was not alone in this kind of adventure. There are vast numbers of military brats and wives of servicemen who carry the same experiences from different countries. Thanks to the power of the internet, we are finding each other.

Two such sites that assist in this process are: where you may register so that others may find you, and www.

Another organization of interest is the American Overseas Schools Historical Society, which recently broke ground for a museum to be built in Wichita, Kansas, housing such “sacred artifacts” as my 4th grade report card from Seoul Dependents Elementary School. (Many of the schools currently in operation overseas are being closed as our military presence is no longer required.)

Researchers and historians will be astounded by such a treasure trove detailing one small but important part of our nation’s history.

And now about the novel THE WOMEN OF CAMP SOBINGO

A number of people have asked me what was behind this book – the “real” story. I have no ready answer. I was only an 8- or 9-year-old kid in 1946 in that military compound so far away from the country of my birth.

It was while I was writing ONCE A BRAT about my experiences as an army brat accompanying my army officer father all over the world in the days following the end of WWII that the image of my mother telling me that one of the women in the compound had died sprang into my mind. And not only had she died, she chose to end her life there.

I often wondered why a woman would destroy herself. What kind of dark forces in her childhood would convince a person that death was the only way out of the terrible pain?

So, being the incurable writer (storyteller) that I am, I made it all up.

The four women in the story are composites of women I have known throughout the years. Some stories are true, others appear quite by accident as I sat at my keyboard and allowed the characters free reign to do as they pleased. And often the results were a complete surprise to me.

I began wondering why the beautiful Leah Damon would want to kill herself, and imagined a troubled childhood, a feeling of being “different” from the others in school. (No doubt a mirror image to my own childhood where I was always the new kid in class, and do girls here wear Peter Pan collars or sweaters?)

My mother is portrayed most nearly true to form. She is the West Texas farm girl who marries a soldier and becomes an army wife, following him to the literal ends of the earth.

Maggie is probably my alter-ego, if I would let it out to play. She is a brassy, bossy, fun-loving woman who takes all the challenges life throws at her and almost literally spits in fortune’s eye.

And Trudy. Ah, yes, Trudy is the shy girl who marries into wealth and power, and yet she follows her husband to make a home for themselves in a distant country where she can be herself instead of one of the Cavanaugh women of fame and fortune. Years later, she finds her own hidden strength as well as a weakness that led her to believe events that were not true.

Phyllis Zimbler Miller is the author of MRS. LIEUTENANT: A SHARON GOLD NOVEL and the co-author of the Jewish holiday book SEASONS FOR CELEBRATION. She also blogs at PZ the Do-Gooder Scrooge and Operation Support Jews in the Military, and she is the co-host of the BlogTalkRadio show Your Military Life. Her company Miller Mosaic LLC builds call-to-action websites for book authors and small businesses.


Marilyn said...

How great is this? To see such a good promo for my novel! Additionally, seeing a familiar name (Carolyn Howard Johnson--from various Yahoo group postings)made me feel "at home" with friends.
Many thanks, and please forgive me for posting on my own post, but I wanted everyone to know what an invaluable service you provide. Looking forward to seeing more of you and doing your radio spot in August.
Marilyn Celeste Morris
Army Brat and Author.

Phyllis Zimbler Miller said...

Marilyn --

I'm thrilled that you left a comment on your own post. Guest bloggers don't think to do this and it is much appreciated.