September 13, 2020

Card shower planned for former WWII POW and wife celebrating 71st anniversary Sept. 17

          Former World War II prisoner of war Charlie Dukes, 97, of Georgetown, Ill., not only survived the grueling experiences of his captivity, but went on to help educate future generations about history and the cost of war by speaking to school classes and service clubs and writing his memoir, “Good Morning but the Nightmares Never End,” now in its third printing.

          Following the war, Charlie adjusted somewhat to life on the home front, went to college and met the love of his life, Gracie Schwab. Now, their four children and many friends are planning to help them celebrate their 71st wedding anniversary on Sept. 17, and invite the public to send a card or note of best wishes to them for the occasion: 

Charlie and Gracie Dukes 
Autumn Fields 
Room 115
 316 E. 14th St. 
Tilton, IL 61832 
Charlie’s story of survival was an arduous one all those years ago, but he made it back home to Illinois from Europe in the fall of 1945 after the war had officially ended. That was after enduring nine months in a German POW camp near the Polish border until prisoners and Germans alike hastily evacuated and started to flee west to avoid Russian troops advancing from the east, then spending time in a Russian detention camp from which he escaped, and later surviving a couple of months alone on the road before reaching the safety of Allied Lines on May 27--20 days after the Germans had surrendered. Dukes’ long journey to freedom ended with a prisoner exchange at the Elbe River in Wittenberg, Germany. 
In his retirement years, Charlie visited area schools and clubs, talking about the war and his experiences. In the late 1990s, he began to write his memoir about the war, “Good Morning but the Nightmares Never End” (available from Tales Press and at Amazon) with the help of his wife, Gracie. The title is taken from Charlie’s promise of saying, “Good morning,” for the rest of his life after he and a buddy were lead scouts for his L Company, 3rd Platoon, 413th Infantry, 104th Wolfhound Division, and they encountered a German battalion. His buddy was killed, and Charlie was trapped between the lines in no-man’s land for the night. 
“I’m not really a religious man,” he says, “but I promised the man upstairs that if I ever saw the sun come up again, I’d say ‘good morning’ for the rest of my life. When the sun came up, I said, ‘Good morning.’ I’ve been saying it ever since.” 
            In addition to Dukes’ story being available in hardcover and Amazon Kindle formats, Urbana native and scriptwriter Joe Hampton is developing an audiobook version and has written a script for a movie. A few years ago, Hampton posted a short video on YouTube of Dukes talking about his wartime experiences.
            It’s been an important mission for Dukes to share his story with others, and, in fact, the process has therapeutically helped eliminate the frequent, and sometimes very active, nightmares that haunted him for years. 
So, please consider taking a moment to send a card or note to bring a little cheer to a special couple for their 71st anniversary. And you might start your note off with a hearty “Good morning, Charlie and Gracie!” 

September 8, 2020

Author’s death prompts new support for writing scholarship honoring mentor

The recent death of noted author and playwright Jon Shirota, the last member of the prolific Lowney Handy Writers Colony of the 1950s and ‘60s near Marshall, Ill., has prompted a resurgence of contributions for a scholarship to inspire future writers from the area.
          The Lowney Turner Handy Creative Writing Scholarship was established at Marshall High School in honor of the unconventional namesake and co-founder of the writers colony known for her early nurturing of James Jones, author of “From Here to Eternity,” “The Thin Red Line” and other acclaimed works from Jones and former colony members. In gratitude to his former mentor, Shirota had provided $5,000 to give $500 annually to one graduating senior who best demonstrates an interest and ability in writing. 
          The last aspiring writer to live, train and work at the colony, Shirota, a Japanese-American who was born and raised on Maui and lived in Southern California, went on to publish several acclaimed novels and plays: “Lucky Come Hawaii,” written at the Colony in the early 1960s, “Pineapple White,” “Chronicles of Ojii-Chan” and several other stories. 
          In the opening chapter of  “Lucky Come Hawaii,” the news has just reached Maui that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. That causes miscommunications, confusion and rumors of war that aggravate the already-tense relations among the diverse immigrant population, Native Hawaiians and the American military. Told from the perspective of a poor Okinawan family, of which Shirota was born into, the novel captures the emotions and trauma that change forever the fate and way of life for everyone on the island. 
          After it was adapted into a play, it was awarded a production grant from the John F. Kennedy Center for new plays and led to other plays and playwriting awards for Shirota. He received awards from the Rockefeller Foundation, the American College Theater Festival, the Los Angeles Actors Theater Festival of One Acts, the Los Angeles County Cultural Affairs Department and the Japanese U.S. Friendship Commission and National Endowment for the Arts. “Leilani’s Hibiscus” and “Voices of Okinawa” were published in “Voices from Okinawa” (http://manoajournal.hawaii.edu) and have been performed in New York, Los Angeles, Hawaii, Okinawa and Japan. 
          Shirota wanted to fund the scholarship to honor Lowney Handy for nurturing him and helping him become a writer. Without her, he doubted he would ever have achieved his goal. He was working as an Internal Revenue Service representative in Los Angeles when Handy invited him to the colony in 1963. He resigned immediately, loaded up and drove the 2,000 miles to Marshall. On occasional trips back to Marshall and the area for the James Jones Literary Society symposia, Shirota would visit Handy’s grave in Marshall and leave a bouquet of flowers and stand before her grave in quiet contemplation.  
          “She showed me the way,” Shirota always said. “And I have a signed picture of her that she gave me on the wall of my office that I look up to each day as I sit down to write. She inspires me. My contribution to the writing scholarship is my way of honoring what she did for me.” 
          The $500 annual scholarship is given to the student who completes an application, holds a GPA of 2.5 or higher—Shirota liked the lower GPA because he never graduated from high school and joined the U.S. Army as soon as he was old enough and was stationed at Schofield Barracks where Jones was stationed when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor—and is a graduating Marshall High School senior and completes a creative writing essay outlined by MHS senior Engish teacher Amy Gard or her successor. Recipients also receive a copy of the book, “Writings From the Handy Colony,” donated by Tales Press (www.talespress.com). 
          The Marshall Public Library has all the books written by members of the Handy Writers Colony. Besides the books of Shirota and Jones, other writers from the Colony who published books include Edwin “Sonny” Daly (who left $100,000 to the library when he died) Don Sackrider, John Bowers, Tom Chamales, Jere Peacock and Charles Wright.
          When Shirota made the initial contribution in 2017 at almost 90 years old, he laughed and said, “If I live to be 100, I’ll give another $5,000 to continue it for another 10 years.”
          Shirota didn’t make it for another 10 years, but the members of the James Jones Literary Society and others who appreciate Handy’s contributions to the literary world are hoping to continue the scholarship for many years to come. Contributions through the first of the year may be made to Friends of the Marshall Public Library (a 501(c)3 organization), Attn: Director, 612 Archer Ave., Marshall, IL 62441, earmarked Jon Shirota in the check memo.