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January 14, 2013

Dear reader (aka Yes, the WAC did serve in WWII Paris)

One of the best things about being an author is hearing from readers of my books. I love receiving emails and notes and comments and questions and feedback. But every now and then, you hear from someone who takes offense at something you’ve written and has a giant bone to pick.

One man wrote me recently to tell me he found one particular portion of Becoming Clementine “insulting to anyone with the minimum of knowledge of contemporary history! And Gossie in a WAC uniform, no less!” (The exclamation marks are his.)

The apparently offensive passage dealt with one of my characters– the aforementioned Gossie– who works as a member of the 3341st Signal Battalion in German-occupied Paris during World War II. I had no idea, when writing the book, that the details of Gossie’s work, and the wearing of that uniform, would cause such an uproar. (Other readers have also written to question the plausibility of such a thing, and to take me to task for having Gossie wear her WAC uniform in public.)

So I submit the evidence here.

Not only were these women of the 3341st Signal Battalion very much in German-occupied Paris during World War II, they did courageous and daring work. (Work too extensive for me to detail here, but those who are interested can follow the links at the end of this post to learn more.) I based Gossie’s experiences on their first-hand accounts.

One of the members of that battalion, Ida E. Simpson, vividly remembered the training her WAC unit received in England, the deployment to France, the landing on war-ravaged Normandy Beach, and the arrival in Paris in the fall of 1944, where she spent a year operating field switchboards. As she recalled, “When we got to Paris, they assigned us to the 3341st Signal Battalion. We sent messages back and forth across the English Channel and all over the European Theater.”

The women put through hundreds of telephone calls every day. During each call they had to say, “Will you guard your conversation, please? The enemy may be listening.”

The women stayed in Paris until after Victory in Europe Day, or VE Day. “Before we left France, the French people wanted to show their appreciation for women who served there during the war,” Simpson said. “So they had a big parade for us that went all the way from the Arc de Triomphe to the end of the Champs-Elysees.”

You can read more about the work and life of the WAC in occupied Paris here, read an obituary of a WAC who served in Paris here, and read a portion of Ms. Simpson’s interview on the U.S. Department of Defense website.

In my reply to this man, I told him that while I certainly welcome and appreciate comments re. my work, I do expect them to be well substantiated and well informed, particularly when I am being scolded.

To deny these women their history and their selfless contribution is insulting to them and the brave and dangerous work that they did!

(The exclamation mark is mine.)