When COVID-19 hit, local author Kelly Milner Halls watched her income shrivel almost overnight. She lost thousands of dollars when all but one of her school presentations was canceled.
But a book blurb she wrote for another author put her in touch with a publisher who needed her writing skills.
“They (Callisto Publishers) contacted me and asked if I wanted to write about World War II,” said Milner Halls, who ended up writing two books on the subject.
While she’s written about dinosaurs, mummies and cryptid creatures, World War II was a new topic for her, but it was a topic she grew to love.
“I felt a personal connection,” she said. “My father served in Korea and gave me a Bible with a metal cover that he carried in Korea. It was given to him by his brother-in-law, who carried it in World War II.”
In August, “Voices of Young Heroes” and “Voices of Ordinary Heroes,” were published. The books are part of the History Speaks series for children ages 8 to 12.
Each book features 20 stories, which include photos and a “Did You Know?” fact. As she delved into researching and writing, Milner Halls discovered there was much she didn’t know about the war.
Most people are familiar with the story of Anne Frank, which is included in “Voices of Young Heroes,” but not many have heard of Helmuth Hubener, a Latter-day Saints Boy Scout who was executed for writing and distributing articles about Nazi atrocities, and the truth of the Allies’ might.
Though German by birth, Helmuth had access to a radio and heard broadcasts from the BBC.
“He decided he needed to tell people the truth,” Milner Halls said.
At 17, he paid the ultimate price for speaking out.
Danish native Knud Pedersen was just 14 when he, along with his brother, some cousins and close friends, formed the RAF Club named after Britain’s Royal Air Force. He later formed the Churchill Club, named for his hero.
“The boys did all kinds of mischievous things,” Milner Halls said. “They were just kids, but it mattered to them to take a stand.”
They used their bicycles to run into and destroy newly painted German signs. They cut Nazi phone lines with garden tools, and eventually they graduated to bigger resistance activities like blowing up a boxcar filled with airplane wings.
Even being arrested didn’t stop them. They slipped in and out of prison under the cover of darkness to continue their acts of resistance.
After the war, Pedersen and his gang got to meet Winston Churchill.
Boys weren’t the only ones fighting for the resistance. Dutch sisters Freddie and Truus Oversteengen used their youth and beauty to pass along messages. Eventually, the teenage girls learned to shoot and carry out acts of sabotage.
“It was heartwarming to know these kids stood up,” Milner Halls said. “I want kids today to know they can make a difference, too.”
Equally compelling were the stories she discovered while writing “Voices of Ordinary Heroes.”
One of them has a local connection. Spokane author Chris Crutcher’s father served as a B-17 pilot.
John Crutcher flew 35 successful missions over Germany and was thankful to make it home to his family.
Of his missions, he said, “Look to your left. Look to your right. One of you won’t be coming back.”
Sailor Dorie Miller was awarded a Navy Cross for gallantry during combat, the first Black man to receive such an honor.
In 1939, when Miller enlisted, Black men were forced to work as mess attendants for white officers. They weren’t allowed to fire guns, just pass out ammunition. That changed for Miller on Dec. 7, 1941, during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Miller was aboard the USS West Virginia when a torpedo tore through the ship. Without training or orders, Miller manned a machine gun and opened fire on Japanese aircraft. When his commanding officer sounded the call to abandon ship, Miller helped carry wounded sailors to safety, then swam 400 yards to shore as bullets rained down.
“With all those bullets spattering all around me, it was by the grace of God that I never got a scratch,” he said.
Though both books are written for young readers, the stories prove inspirational for older readers, too, and the writing of them greatly impacted the author.
“I look at Veterans Day and Memorial Day a whole lot differently,” Milner Halls said. “Writing these books was an awakening.
“I think I’m forever changed.”
Cindy Hval can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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