Entertaining to educate



Will and Dena: Love and Life in World War II by Bob Rogers


cover will and dena

eBook $9.95


Early in 1943, Hirohito, Hitler, and Mussolini are near the apex of their powers.  The three Axis powers are successfully ruling most of the countries of Europe, North Africa, and Southeast Asia.  In the same year, Will, a lumberjack and amateur baseball player, and Dena, a beautiful and head-strong co-ed, fall in love. 

While a world war rages, their dreams are threatened, first by Dena’s mother’s classism.  Dena’s mother declares Will is “not good enough” for her daughter and orders Dena to stop seeing him.  Dena vows never to give up her love for Will and won’t have anything to do with the suitor, a young teacher, her mother chooses for her. 

Meanwhile, a group of powerful businessmen have designs to exploit Will’s extraordinary baseball skills for their financial gain.  A member of the business cartel is a county judge and former professional baseball player who leads the drive to have Will make the baseball team in their small North Carolina town into a major attraction and moneymaker.

The carefully laid baseball business scheme fails when the Ku Klux Klan attacks Will’s family.  Dena and Will are forced to separate as he flees for his life.  As he departs, Dena provides Will writings of Langston Hughes. Hughes’ poems and columns become central to Will’s determination to survive all hardships and reunite with Dena.

Will finds refuge in the US Army’s 366th Infantry Regiment guarding the pilots and planes of the celebrated Red Tails and joining the famed Buffalo Soldiers of the 92nd Infantry Division fighting Hitler’s Wehrmacht in Italy.  He bonds with three members of his infantry platoon.  Their leader calls them the “Four Musketeers.”  They are of the generation that becomes known as America’s greatest. 

They discover a second enemy – their American commanding general who tells them, “I will see to it that you suffer your share of the casualties.”  The “Musketeers” meet and embrace Italian Partisans in their homes and side by side on the battlefield. 

In the face of hardships and certain death in both North Carolina and Italy that threaten to keep the lovers apart, Will meets challenge after challenge on the path to living the life he and Dena dream of having together.


Excerpts from:

Will and Dena: Love and Life in World War II

     “…Now I don’t know what to think. Y’all jes ‘bout convinced me that what we do ain’t gone ‘mount to a hill o’beans wid a damned cracker.”
     Joe stopped. He still stared straight ahead. He was quiet for a long moment. No one spoke. At length, he continued. “Cuz was named Robert Hall. It was right near the end of January when they lynched him out of pure meanness…”

     Joe took a sip of water from his canteen. “Yeah, man. I’m stickin’ to Zach like horse glue. That ol’ dude’s been bringin’ us in on time at the right place evah time. But I ain’t seed no shower.”
     Will laughed. “Don’t worry. We can’t smell you. We all stink.”
     Sam said, “Ain’t that the damn truth.”

3     Minutes later, Joe returned with two petite Moroccan women in western dress. One wore a bright smile and held Joe’s arm with both hands as if she had been his best girl for years. “Hey, guys. Dis here is Amina.” Amina did a small curtsy, bending her knees forwarded as Joe introduced each Musketeer.
     In perfect English, Amina said, “I am pleased to meet each of Joe’s friends. May I present my twin sister, Jasmina?”
     Will was sure he had never seen Zach move so fast. In a flash, he was holding a chair for Jasmina. The Musketeers laughed with Amina. Soldiers from their regiment seated at the next table laughed at Zach’s exaggerated theatrics.
     Will didn’t see them coming. Before Zach could be seated, two white sailors stood over their table. One said to Amina as he reached for her hand, “I’m sure y’all will more comfortable over at our table.”

They were greeted at midday in Barga by members of the 370th. Barga sat high on a ridge between even higher elevations in the Apuan Alps and Apennines mountain ranges. Will thought, except for the rugged and steep mountain sides, this looks somewhat like Cardinal County, North Carolina, at the foot of the Appalachians. At mid-afternoon, the drizzle stopped. A cold wind blew from the direction of the Apuan Alps, located less than five miles west of Barga. Though there were only patches of snow in shady spots in Barga, Will could see the snow-covered tops of lower mountains. The top of Mount Cimone, the loftiest peak in the Apennines, and visible to the northeast from Barga on a clear day, was hidden by the remaining overcast. The sound of mortar shells landing at Sommocolonia, about a mile north of Barga as the crow flies, ended Will’s daydreaming about the mountains of North Carolina.

Joe’s extra [sniper] equipment included gifts from Signora Carlucci. She had fashioned a burlap cover for his rifle that hid its shiny surfaces. The cover was secured with two of Will’s extra shoelaces. She also made a camouflage cape for him that was burlap on one side and a dirty white cotton flour sack on the other. Joe used the cape, thrown over his head, to break up the shape of his head and shoulders. The cape also hid the shine of his helmet.

     From his small vantage point, it looked like an infantry company. Will saw one German glance over his shoulder and raise a hand to signal his men to turn right. When the German leader turned his face forward again, he met Joe’s bullet between his eyes. Blood and brains splattered on the men around him as he fell backwards.

     Unabashed, Dena ran as fast as she could across the parking lot to meet Lil’ Will. In the breeze, her calf-length shirtdress rose above her knees. She did not slow as she closed the gap. With a big grin, Lil’ Will dropped his equipment bag and held out his arms. Dena ran into his arms and placed hers around his neck. She felt giddy as her feet left the ground and followed her body, flying in an arch as Lil’ Will lifted and spun her around. It reminded Dena of running to meet her father as a little girl. She had forgotten over the years the thrill of being spun like that. With her feet on the ground again, she hugged him tightly and pressed her face into his chest. She inhaled his scent and smiled.

Neither Lil’ Will nor Dusty paid attention to the runner at third as he broke for home. Dusty completed his stretch and delivered a fastball. The batter squared to bunt. But Dusty’s pitch was shoulder high and over the left-handed batter’s box. Lil’ Will leapt to his feet, caught the ball, and took two long strides to position himself atop the right-handed batter’s box and astride the base path. As he stood blocking the base path, Lil’ Will saw the shocked look on the runner’s face. The surprised runner lowered his left shoulder and ran full speed ahead. Lil’ Will gracefully sidestepped the runner and applied a two-handed tag in the middle of the runner’s back.
            Dusty was halfway to home plate. Lil’ Will heard Dusty screaming, “Second! Second!”
      The runner at first base was attempting to advance on the play at the plate. Lil’ Will fired the ball to Cliff covering the bag at second a step ahead of the runner. Cliff tagged the runner with a flourish he had copied from his mentor, Jo-Jo. Though there were only two outs in the top of the eighth, the Red Birds, on the field and in the dugout, were jumping about and shouting as if the game had already ended in victory.

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