On Anthony and Jesse

WARNING: This blog post contains spoiler of Book 4 – Remembrance.

Jesse Garland is no doubt the most memorable character in the Rose of Anzio. I know because many readers have written to me about him. I didn’t plan for him to enter this story. When I write, I don’t plot or outline. I let the muse take me where it wants me to go. Jesse materialized when I was writing Book 2-Jalousie, when I had in mind to create an 18-year old solider who would be akin to a little brother to Anthony. The kid would help Anthony and Tessa pass messages to each other while in Anzio. He could possibly be a medic. He had dark hair, and looked very much an ordinary American boy next door.

Somewhere between writing the first two scenes of this “little brother”, Jesse Garland came crashing into my mind. The boy soldier morphed into this unbelievably handsome and charismatic young man of Anthony’s age, with a not-so-decent past. I could see him in my mind. His eyes were captivating beyond words. From that moment, the whole “little brother” plot went straight to the trash can. This character, now Jesse, took on a life of his own, and Jesse himself started telling me his story. (I did end up creating a young soldier, Fox, but ultimately he was not pivotal to the plot.)

Last week, a reader wrote to me and asked why Jesse had to die. I think the outcome of his fate, as well as Anthony’s, deserve an explanation. This was my answer to the reader:

In writing “Rose of Anzio”, I had read a lot of primary documents about WWII, including personal diaries, letters, memoirs, army records, and official accounts. All the true stories about the young men who had been sent to war moved me deeply. Today, those in the WWII generation are passing. Their experience is fading from our collective memories. I couldn’t help but want to share what I had learned with my readers. I wanted to show my readers what these young men had gone through, by letting them feel the experience through Anthony and Jesse. From that point on, Anthony and Jesse represented to me two different aspects of the human experience in that war. Anthony was the one through whom we could see what their battles were like, and the horrible actions they had to take to survive. Jesse was the character through whom we could feel the senseless, tremendous loss caused by that war. It was not enough to only have a story where soldiers died. We can understand the true depth of the losses only if the most beloved character was killed. If we feel sadness and heartache for the loss of Jesse, then we would know how those who had lost their loved ones in WWII must have felt.

So many young men had died in that war. When I read their diaries and memoirs, or memoirs of those who had known them, I felt as if I knew them myself. They had such bright futures and potential, none of which could be realized because their lives were taken away. In “Rose of Anzio”, we saw Jesse transform from a self-serving, misguided young man to someone who had learned how to love, and to use his true, compassionate nature to do good. We feel the pain of losing someone like him. In reality, we had lost millions of young men around the world with just as much potential because of that war. It was my hope to convey that message.

Anthony represented another message. I want us to look at the world with optimism despite the grave errors we commit sometimes as a world and a society. Perhaps in real life, we don’t always get a happy ending. It is not within my power to bring back those who we had lost. But in the world I created at least, I want to bring the hero soldier home. This would be my small gift of hope to those who pick up my story, and my way of saying the war didn’t defeat us. 

If you are feeling the loss and wish for Jesse to remain just a little while longer, I had written a short story about him, Christmas Eve in the City of Dreams, which appears in the anthology Pearl Harbor and More: Stories of December 1941. The anthology is currently available on Amazon and all online book retailers for 99 cents.

The featured image of this blog is last piece of Rose of Anzio artwork that graphic artist Jeff Brown did for this story. This is how we imagined the fatal of chapter in the High Vosges. I am currently consulting with another artist to create artwork of Jesse. I hope I’ll be able to share something new with you next year.