Monday, February 15, 2016

Day One Twenty Five. Influence: Robert Des Lauriers

Robert Des Lauriers was one of hundreds who fought America's wars and whom I interviewed later for books, magazine articles and newspaper columns between 1955 and 2015.

All were different. Few were as straightforward and as matter-of-fact as Bob when talking of being co-pilot of a four-engined B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber in battle high over the Third Reich.

My life has changed recently but those 60 years of writing history military may be my best contribution to the world, along with being an Air Force veteran (1957-60) and a Foreign Service officer (1964-89),

It took time to learn how. My training field was the men's magazine adventure genre of the 1950s to the 1970s where I learned to write about action in crisp, short sentences without the faux-patriotism, sentimentalism, and fawning over veterans that in later years became unfortunate fixtures in American life. You won't find me plugging the "greatest generation" pastiche or—that most irritating of habits—thanking someone for his service. After the men's magazines I wrote books—character-driven narratives of war— including one in which Bob Des Lauriers has a part.

Brave deeds

B-17 bomber crews flew at altitudes, typically 28,000 feet, where temperatures were often below zero Fahrenheit—there was no point in carrying drinking water on the flight; it would freeze—and where oxygen was needed for survival. They not only flew there, they fought there. They were pitted against a formidable adversary with fighters, flak, training and discipline. "I saw a Nazi Me 262 jet fighter climbing behind us on over Nurnberg  on February 21, 1945, and I thought, 'We don't have anything that like that. How can we fight that?'"

Bob was born in Waukegan, Illinois, went to high school after his family moved to California, and completed high school after the family moved to Hawaii in time to witness the December 7, 1941 Japanese attack. He played the trumpet, was in drama class, and saw Adolf Hitler in news reels. "I wasn't one of those people who always wanted to be a pilot.
I was interested in architecture."

Bob jointed the 34th Bombardment Group in England and flew 35 missions, apparently all with the same pilot, 1st Lt Dean Hansen. Later in life he was famous an an architect who designed many churches in Southern California.

He also designed mosques and schools. Before he died in 2013, Bob had become a friend and a fan of my history book, "Mission to Berlin."

When I think about what it took to climb aboard a freezing B-17 and venture into the high cold to face the Luftwaffe over Berlin, I will always be in awe. Bob Des Lauriers and his crewmates were very young men—it was possible to have a 10-man B-17 crew in which no one was yet old enough to vote—and they did what was asked of them.

I interviewed many who flew our most famous warplanes—B-24 Liberator, B-29 Superfortress, P-38 Lighting, P-47 Thunderbolt, P-51 Mustang, and the Korea era F-86 Sabre. I interviewed Americans who got into the air at Pearl Harbor.  I interviewed the American who performed history's first helicopter combat rescue in Burma in 1944. And, yes, I interviewed many who fought in Korea and Vietnam. I became friends with recipients of the Medal of Honor. I covered wars in Panama, the Middle East, Sarajevo, and Somalia. I saw Americans at their best.

Time of change

Around 2015, I wanted to make two major changes in my writing career. I wanted to change from traditional publishing to self publishing. And I wanted to change from history to fiction. I made both changes with my alternate history/science-fiction novel "Hitler's Time Machine," which you can get on Kindle or in hard copy directly from me.

In October 2015, I was diagnosed with a primary brain tumor called a Gliobastoma Multiforme—look it up here. I had brain surgery in December and am now completing chemo and radiation therapy. This type of tumor is always fatal, typically within fifteen months with the kind of treatment I'm getting, In the meantime, there is always no pain or discomfort. I'm still here. I'll still me. I'm still doing most normal stuff.

You can still call me on (703) 264-8950 or take me out for lunch.

The aeronautical-minded among you will note that the model plane on my desk is flying east.

In January 2016—post surgery—my crime novel "Crime Scene: Fairfax County" was published. You can get it in kindle here or directly from me. This is the best way you can support me as I attempt to keep life meaningful—by writing yet another novel and blog entries like this—while enjoying family and friends and keeping spirits high.

I've trying to face my brain tumor the straightforward, matter-of-fact way Bob Des Lauriers faced Hitler's flak and fighters. Someone told me I'm brave. Not at all. But it became my fortune to walk among some of the bravest men who ever lived. Men like Bob are going to help me get through this.


  1. You are extremely brave, thank you for sharing you vast knowledge of aviation!

  2. Bob - I enjoy reading your writings and our conversations. Glad to hear you're still in action. Thank you for your tenacious work in bringing those stories to us. That is certainly a way to honor the men who did what was asked - and a lot was asked. Al Benzing

  3. I'm waiting for another novel. Can you tell us the subject matter? I loved Crime Scene!