Silent Warriors: A Historical Novel by Gene Masters
Most Military authors have a unique back story to their work and Gene Masters is no different. As an engineer by training Gene Masters spent his first career in the military as a submariner, and second career as an engineer; with both careers involving significant amounts of writing. However, Gene was in for quite a shock when he decided to write fiction. Not only does fiction require a very different writing style, but it requires one to weave together a story into an interesting dialog that will grab a reader, hold their attention, and keep them interested. By weaving together a story of the ORCA’s eleven wartime patrols in the Pacific he does just that in his first historical novel “Silent Warriors”. I hope you enjoy this great book.
What is the back story behind “Silent Warriors” ? And why did you decide to write a novel after your time in the service?
In writing Silent Warriors, I wanted to do four things: pay homage to the brave men who were the first line of offense against a rampaging enemy in the Pacific; give the reader a feel of what it was like to serve aboard a diesel-electric submarine during the war; describe what capable and remarkable fighting machines they were for their time, and how they worked; and in doing all that, to tell an entertaining and interesting story.
Silent Warriors may be my first novel, but I’ve been writing all my life. Even in grade school, I made up and wrote down stories. They may not have been very good, and as I recall, one way or another, I always had my characters fall into quicksand! In high school, I took Creative Writing, edited the literary magazine, and wrote short stories. For whatever reason, I went on to study Mechanical Engineering at Notre Dame. But even for a professional engineer, the ability to communicate with the written word is vital. There are always reports to write, proposals to prepare, technical articles to publish; there are also manuals, reclamation plans, and project reports to create.
I retired in 2009, and took up writing fiction again. My first attempts were miserable failures, but I persisted. I had also renewed contact with the men I had served with in USS Angler (SS 240), and floated the idea of writing a story about WWII submarines with a shipmate, and my mentor aboard the boat, Tom Burke. And so, what was to become Silent Warriors, was begun in 2015.
Is there one short story from your book you would like to share?
Silent Warriors is mostly about submarine action. But there are parts of the book where the action takes place off the ship and occur ashore. The battle of Tarawa, for example, is described in detail. Another side story takes place in the Philippines.
About the Philippines, my first active duty station was on an attack transport out of San Diego, the USS Paul Revere (APA 248). I served eighteen months aboard her, including an almost nine months deployment in the Western Pacific. Most of my WESTPAC cruise was in and around the Philippines, and I developed a great respect for Filipino culture and traditions, and especially came to admire the Filipino people themselves.
And so, one side story in the book centers around LTJG Joe Bob Clanton, Engineering Officer on the Orca, and the Philippine island of Mindoro.
Three USAAF airmen survive a crash on Mindoro Island in the Philippines, one of them suffering a broken leg. Before a Japanese contingent can reach them, they are rescued by Filipino guerrillas under the command of one Delvina Bacatplan. Orca is dispatched to pick up the airmen, and Joe Bob is selected to lead the shore party that will go ashore and retrieve the airmen.
Once ashore on Mindoro, however, Joe Bob learns that the shore party must go to the guerrilla camp to pick up the airmen. There Joe Bob meets the love of his life, Delvina, who convinces him to evacuate thirty-seven Filipinos: some women and children and the elderly, along with the three airmen. While Joe Bob is escorting his new charges to the coast and to Orca, Delvina and her guerrillas wipe out the contingent of Japanese commandoes who had been dispatched to seek and destroy her band. Delvina and Joe Bob reunite briefly, as the evacuees are taken aboard Orca, and aren’t sure they will ever see each other again.
Later on in the book, the Army asks that Joe Bob serve as liaison with the guerrillas on Mindoro during a planned upcoming amphibious assault on the island. Of course, Joe Bob and Delvina meet up again, and the beachhead is successfully secured. (As with other action in the novel, the amphibious assault on Mindoro actually did take place.)
The epilogue tells of Joe Bob returning to Mindoro after the war, and of his finding Delvina against all odds. Of course, they marry, and live happily ever after!
I am a military history buff, but what can I learn from a novel that I cannot learn from a history book?
The truth is that most people find that reading a history book is just plain work. And that’s because most non-fiction history books simply don’t make for very entertaining reading.
Also, many people feel that you can’t learn anything from reading fiction, but that’s just not true. Just think about some of the greatest teachers of all time. They all conveyed truth by telling stories – made-up stories: fiction. Consider the parables in the Bible, for example, or Aesop’s fables. All fiction.
Describing actual events through the eyes of the people – real or imagined – who are living them, puts the readers into the historical event, and lets them experience it as if they were actually there.
Take the writer Bernard Cornwell, for instance. He has written a series of books centered around the fictional character Richard Sharp, who serves as a rifleman in the British Army, first in India, and then against Napoleon’s forces in Portugal and Belgium. The last book in the series describes the battle of Waterloo in detail. As he does in his other books, Cornwell puts you inside Wellington’s head, and you see the battle as he sees it. Notice I said “sees” and not “saw.” That’s because Cornwell puts you there, in Waterloo, in June 1815.
A caution, however: not all historical fiction is created equal, and some novelists, when describing historical events, will take great liberties with the factual record!
But it must also be said that there are some non-fiction history writers who can write prose in such a way that they do very nearly the same thing. Take John Keegan, for example. His The Face of Battle and The Price of Admiralty in particular, read almost as breezily and easily as a well-written historical novel. One of the sources for my Silent Warriors was Silent Victory, by Clay Blair, Jr. Blair goes through U.S. submarine action in the Pacific boat by boat, action by action. And he manages to make it interesting. In contrast, Theodore Roscoe’s United States Submarine Operations in World War II is a very tough read.
The protagonist, Jake Lawlor, takes command of the brand new USS Orca; how did you create this character and did it represent someone you know?
Jake is not anyone I knew; rather he’s an amalgam of the guy I wish I’d served under. Jake is a stand-up guy, and he’s never afraid to take a calculated risk in taking the fight to the enemy. But he’s also competent and smart. He knows his boat completely, knows what it’s capable of, and what it cannot do. Similarly, he knows his officers and his crew, trains them incessantly, and demands and expects their best, giving them his best in return. He’s also a good man: a faithful husband and father, and a man firmly grounded in faith. (I can also gladly add that many of the men I served under came close to Jake.)
Putting it another way, Jake Lawlor is the man I imagine WWII submarine commanders and Medal of Honor winners Eugene Fluckey and Dick O’Kane to have been..
Why is reading important for our military and/or the nation?
Where do I start?
These days we are so wrapped up in our cable TVs and smart phones that we can easily forget that books even exist. It’s true that books are bulky, and reading requires we take time out of our busy days. But tens of thousands of books are available in electronic format and dozens at once can be downloaded onto an e-reader. One can also listen to audiobooks on the drive to work. So books are more available now than at any other time in history.
And the corollary to that is if you don’t read, you’re sure to fall behind.
I get a kick out of people who tout their years of experience as proof that they are more than capable of doing a particular job. Of course, experience is important; no one wants to have his skull opened up by a doctor performing his very first brain surgery. But the very best experienced brain surgeon is continually honing his skills: learning the latest techniques, learning about new instruments and drugs, and keeping up with the medical profession in general. And how does he do this? Besides attending conventions and taking part in seminars, he reads and reads and reads.
And no other profession is any different. Think back to what you learned in school (and this is just as applicable to a skilled welder as it is a professional soldier or a professional engineer). Are the ideas and skills you learned there and then, still applicable? Perhaps some, even most, still are. Or perhaps not. Have there been changes that have revolutionized the way your work is now done? Probably. And how did you learn about what was no longer important in your field, and what new developments have occurred that will affect the way you work and think? Chances are, you had to read about them.
And the corollary to that is if you don’t read, you’re sure to fall behind.
And if our military professionals don’t keep up with their professional development, then, by extension, our nation’s defense will fall behind.
Writing a book is tough, were there any surprises as you set out on that journey?
Certainly. As I’ve already said, I spent most of my professional career writing. A capable engineering consultant who can’t write a coherent sentence is delegated to the backwaters of the profession. As I noted above, there are always reports to prepare, proposals to write, articles to publish. In my case, there was even an inch-and-a-half thick doctoral dissertation.
But none of that was fiction. And writing fiction is far different when compared to writing non-fiction. And writing fiction is very hard, even when you can base your stories on historical fact.
Luckily, I was always an avid reader. And I read not just the required technical stuff, but I always enjoyed reading fiction as well. So when I set out to write fiction, I at least had some idea of where I was headed.
But I was soon to discover that being a really good technical writer does not translate into the immediate ability to write decent fiction. The grammar is the same, perhaps (although fiction allows liberties to be taken, even there), and the vocabulary as well, but there is rarely a call, for example, to write interesting dialogue in non-fiction.
The big surprise, therefore, was the requirement for an almost entirely different skill set. Ever try, for example, to paint a picture with just words? Or describe people or their emotional reactions?
To develop that skill set, I started small. I wrote some short stories under a pseudonym and posted then on a literary web site. At first, the criticism that they provoked was withering, but I persisted, and eventually actually developed a small following.
Then came the idea of writing a novel about submarines. That was in 2015, when I started writing Silent Warriors. But then I had Tom Burke’s help – Tom edited and critiqued every word of it as I wrote it, chapter by chapter. Unfortunately, Tom passed away before Silent Warriors was eventually published.
When the book was finally finished, the next big surprise was how hard it was to proofread a 606-page novel!
Other than your book, are there any books you would recommend be added to the Navy’s Reading List?
Absolutely. I would certainly include the books and the authors I mentioned above: the books by Bernard Cornwell, John Keegan, and Clay Blair’s Silent Victory.
Added to these I would heartily recommend the Jack Aubrey – Stephen Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian, set in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic wars. There are twenty books in this series, starting with Master and Commander, and every one of them is a jewel.
Another set of excellent books are the works of Alistair MacLean, the most famous of which is probably The Guns of Navarone. MacLean also wrote Ice Station Zebra and Where Eagles Dare; all three of these novels were made into films.
I can also recommend all of these:
- The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane,
- Glory Enough for All: the Battle of the Crater, by Duane Schultz
- All Quiet on the Western Front, by Eric Maria Remarque,
- The Guns of August, by Barbara W. Tuchman,
- Thunder Below, by Eugene B. Fluckey,
- Run Silent, Run Deep, by Ned Beach,
- The Hunt for Red October, by Tom Clancy,
- Blind Man’s Bluff, by Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew.
Then there’s Rick Campbell’s works. Rick’s a living author who’s written some excellent books. There are obviously plenty of good books to read out there!
And don’t forget my latest book Operation Exodus Coming out in June.
Gene Masters is a retired consulting engineer living in East Tennessee with his wife, Ruth. They have two grown daughters, and two grandchildren. He is the author of several technical treatises, including his doctoral dissertation, but Silent Warriors is his first serious attempt at fiction.
Masters received a commission in the U.S. Navy upon graduation from college, and his first tour of duty was aboard a transport in the Western Pacific. His second tour was aboard a recommissioned and updated diesel-electric submarine, the USS Angler. Angler was originally commissioned in 1943, and made seven war patrols in the Pacific before being decommissioned. Her updating to an SSK-class boat in the 1950’s fitted her for operation against cold war submarine adversaries with advanced soundproofing and sonar. Masters left Angler and active duty after a Mediterranean tour. Later Naval Reserve assignments included the diesel-electric submarines USS Manta and the USS Ling.
After active duty, Masters pursued a career in engineering, and served in various companies until settling into a career as a consulting engineer. He retired in 2009.
Gene Masters can be contacted via LinkedIn at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/gene-masters-784464170/ or his personal website: