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The Bookmonger: Anacortes press offers two views of World War II

For The Bellingham Herald

“A Long Way from Brooklyn” by John Tursi, as told to Thelma Palmer

“Cigarette Diaries” by Frank J. Pratt

Cave Art Press originally focused on nautical guidebooks and coastal exploration. But the Anacortes-based press has recently expanded its scope – two books published earlier this year focus on the stories of two local World War II veterans.

“A Long Way from Brooklyn” features longtime Anacortes resident John Tursi, who was born in New York City. He was the youngest son of Italian immigrants who could scarcely make a go of things during the Great Depression. After his mother died, Tursi scrounged for work until he finally lied about his age to get accepted into the Civilian Conservation Corps, which shipped him to the Pacific Northwest.

Tursi was stationed at Deception Pass, and quickly fell in love with the place. When he met Doris Anderson, a local girl, at a Fourth of July dance, he resolved to make his life in Anacortes. They married in 1936 and set about building a home and life together – but World War II interrupted their plans for nearly four years when Tursi joined the Army. He wound up in Europe as a tech sergeant, building aerodromes in England, bridges in France, and working in some of the war’s hot spots.

Initially Tursi related his story to co-author Thelma Palmer and it was published in 1989 as “Long Journey to the Rose Garden.” In this new version, Cave Art Press has cleaned up some of the vernacular and made some editorial changes.

In any event, “A Long Way from Brooklyn” offers insights into the local CCC culture as well as Army life during World War II. It also provides a terrific example of the “Greatest Generation,” as the Great Depression’s destitute children grew up to serve in World War II and then went on to forge the American middle class of the 20th century.

Another perspective on World War II can be found in “The Cigarette Diaries,” the true story of Frank J. Pratt, who as a child divided his time between Bellingham and Blanchard, Washington, and who went on to become an Army Air Corps 2nd Lieutenant bombardier in World War II.

Pratt was nearing the end of his tour of duty when his plane got shot down over Poland. He parachuted to a safe landing, but was immediately captured by the Germans and spent eight months as a prisoner of war in a stalag near the Baltic Sea.

During his time as a POW, Pratt kept a journal that he wrote on the backs of cigarette packets provided by the Red Cross.

In 2008, Pratt’s daughter compiled these jottings and published them privately in a hardbound book as a gift for her dad. Now, with additional context and several photos, this book is available to the general public in paperback.

From the stark misery, to the cruel uncertainties, to the distractions POWs devised for themselves, “The Cigarette Diaries” gives us an insider’s view of prison camp existence.

The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at bkmonger@nwlink.com

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