Staten Island OutLOUD
Transcript of Speech by Dolores Morris
It was very important for me to get this book done; not only for me and my family, but for anyone who never knew the real story.
The story our history books omit, the story many children and adults don’t know; the story that Hollywood and TV overlook…
The story that of 16 million Americans who served in World War II and more than 3 million of those were African Americans.
Of the 73,000 Americans who landed at Normandy; over 3000 were African American.
When we see big Hollywood movies like “Saving Private Ryan” or acclaimed mini-series like, “Band of Brothers”; we don’t see soldiers of color represented at all.
Yet they were there, fighting and they were among the 2500 who died during the invasion of Normandy; dying, on the beaches and in the jungles like their white comrades. These young black men went to war to fight for a country that still held them back with discrimination. The historian Stephen Ambrose, who wrote, “Band of Brothers, said it best…
“The world’s greatest democracy fought the world’s greatest racist with a segregated army”.
That is why this book is so important. The story cannot be lost.
Growing up, I know my father had been in the army, but that’s all I knew.
He never talked about the war. I saw pictures of soldiers and even pictures of him in uniform, in my parent’s photo albums, but he never said anything. He never talked about the war.
In 1994, our country was consumed with celebrating the 50th anniversary of D-Day. There were so many TV specials and documentaries, magazine articled, newspaper articles.
On a particular day my sister was driving with my dad, and she said he began to talk about the war. He started telling her story after story.
It was as if a tap had been opened and now it was Ok to let the memories flow and to talk about it.
I guess all the attention and media exposure about D-Day affected him. I learned that many veterans started talking during that time. Everything they had held in for 50 years.
I offered to take him to Normandy for the celebrations that were happening during that time, but he adamantly refused.
Now after knowing his story, I understand. He could never go back.
My sister insisted we start taping dad. Thank God she understood the treasure we had here and how important it was. Thanks Sis!
I want digress a bit here and to stress, that all of us have stories, but we need to really take seriously the importance of collecting the stories of our elders. The wisdom of those generations cannot be lost.
So we began the process; I was doing a lot of travelling for work so the system we devised was that I would write up the interview questions, and my sister would tape Dad’s interview. Mom was there as well. Thank goodness because she often gave us facts and remembered little things that dad forgot.
These interviews went on for weeks. I couldn’t believe the stories and the more dad talked the more he remembered…in amazing detail. We went from audio tape to doing a video of him.
He was a natural on camera…every interview and taping gave us more insight.
Now what? How do we get his story out? A book had to be written. I had no idea where to begin.
I think it was about 2008, when dad got an invitation to tell his story to a7th grade history class at IS 61.
This was especially exciting for him because IS 61 is named for his father, William A Morris.
My sister went with him that day, for his first guest appearance. I couldn’t wait to find out how it went.
Well, it was a disaster!
The kids were rude; the teacher had no control in the classroom. They paid little or no attention; and when Dad had finished his talk and asked for questions, one student raised his hand and asked,
“Who won the war?”
Dad was very disappointed; he had an important story to tell! I knew I had to do something to recharge him, because this old soldier wanted to talk!!
It happened I had been a long time volunteer at my elementary school PS 19. I went to the principal Mary Petrone and told her dads story.
She was thrilled; she had a master teacher of one of the 5th grades who would be able to incorporate this into her history and language arts section. Christine Vigliotti was terrific. She worked with me on how to prep the kids; she devised three 90 minute sessions over 3 weeks; Mr. Morris’ World War II class.
So 35 5th graders were in his first class…and a star was born!
The class was such a hit over the next 5 years we went from one class to 3 sessions of teaching ALL the 5th grades at PS 19.
The children were mesmerized; you could hear a pin drop during the sessions. Their questions were great.
Usually around the second session adults started showing up. The kids had told their parents and relatives about Mar Morris.
In fact at one graduation, where Dad was the special guest, he was so mobbed after the ceremony I thought I was with a Kardashian!
No one could get enough of the story of this soldier and his special friend …TRIXIE, the soldier that wagged her tail.
It took about 6 years to get this book done. I was blessed to find a literary agent, Lois de La Haba, who stuck with me through years of disappointment. 17 publishing companies said no. 17!!
Lois just kept saying, “this book will happen…this book will happen”.
Although every publisher liked the story presentation, the publishing world had greatly changed.
Since I wasn’t Oprah, or Mafia Wife or a Kid from the Jersey Shore; they couldn’t figure out how they’d make money off this book.
It was time to bite the bullet and do the inevitable…self publishing
I knew nothing about this.
But again, Lois pulled some magic and found KCM publishing; a fairly new company that specialized in E books and had contracts with Amazon, and all the big E book publishers.
So contracts were signed and I got to work…I started seriously writing this book!
I had years of tapes, interviews, video and pictures to help me. And thank the Lord I still had dad and mom.
The hardest part was figuring out how to make this book different. How do I get the voice of dad that mesmerized those kids? And what is the hook? Is this a kid’s book? Is it for adults? Is it an educational text book?
Then it came to me, this was not only dad’s story but it was a story told from the point of view of his four legged guardian angel. So now the hard part was trying to figure out how to write the voice of a dog!!
Several times, I had to sit with dad to ask more questions. I had to know what his young man self felt as he went through all of this. And I had to find Trixie’s voice.
How come she spoke English? How old was she? Did you train her? Was she friendly? Where did she sleep? What did she eat? Did she go to church with you? Was she afraid of the noise of battle…of the guns or cannons?
Slowly Trixie’s voice emerged, and when I let dad read a sample chapter, he smiled, “That’s her..that’s Trixie?
I wrote and wrote and wrote whenever and wherever I could. I did not have a “writer’s schedule”.
The book would say to me, “Let’s go, Dolores, time to write”…sometimes it was at dawn, or on the ferry, or Shhhh in church.
And then of course I had an even bigger deadline…dad who was now 95 and constantly asking…”how’s the book coming?”…Yikes!!
In September of 2014 after an almost tragic mishap at Staples…that’s another story…I sent my handwritten manuscript to my publisher… yes handwritten…I’m old school.
Then the real fun began…
The manuscript was typed, an editor was hired…and she was merciless. I went through 5 re writes…
Old pictures from their photo albums had to be scanned, and captioned. Souvenirs had to be photographed and scanned…Thank you Barbara. Book layouts Okayed; fonts selected. Cover art, grammar and spell check three times.
In the real world…if I was famous …the publishing house would do this; and send you a nice fat advance check!
But, in self publishing you do to all and pay for it all.
The money wasn’t my immediate worry…I was racing the calendar.
My goal was to get the book in dad’s hands by his 95th birthday on April 13, 2015
My publisher worked with me…..”We’ll do it Dolores…it will be tight but we will do it!”
And we did! On April 13 I was able to post a fabulous picture on my Face book page of Dad holding a copy of his book!
Now that you know some of the background story; I hope you enjoy the readings coming next, and will be moved want to read the whole story.
My family and I thank you for your support today….and I know a little dog, named Trixie, who thanks you as well.
A very touching story of a black American soldier and the dog he meets and befriends during WWII. It made me laugh and cry. Including the dog’s dialogue was a very creative way to make the story come alive. Highly recommend this book.