Monday, October 29, 2012

IHS Press Author at Brown County Library

Rachel Perry, retired curator of fine arts at the Indiana State Museum and author of the IHS Press book Paint and Canvas: A Life of T. C. Steele, will lecture on Steele and the other Hoosier Group artists of Indiana at 7 p.m. Tuesday, November 13, in the lower meeting room at the Brown County Public Library, 205 Locust Lane, Nashville, Indiana. The program is free and open to the public.

Featuring photographs and paintings by Indiana artists, the talk by Perry will also include a discussion of the original Indiana impressionists in the context of their times; their studies in Munich, Germany; their favorite landscape painting places in Indiana; and why these artists are important to us today.

Copies of Paint and Canvas will be available for sale. For more information, call the library at (812) 988-2850.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Interview with Jontz Biography Author

Ray E. Boomhower is senior editor with the Indiana Historical Society Press, where is is responsible for the quarterly popular history magazine Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History. Winner of the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Award, Boomhower has written biographies of Civil War general and author Lew Wallace, famed Hoosier World War II correspondent Ernie Pyle, astronaut Gus Grissom, suffragette and peace activist May Wright Sewall, and U.S. Navy ace Alex Vraciu. Here he answers questions about his new biography published by the IHS Press, The People's Choice: Congressman Jim Jontz of Indiana.

How did Jim Jontz come to your attention?

After graduating from Indiana University in 1982 with degrees in journalism and political science, I got a job as a reporter on the Rensselaer Republican, a daily newspaper in Jasper County, Indiana. Jontz served as a state representative in that area, and I came across him while reporting on a variety of stories, including a water crisis in the small community of Parr, Indiana.

My interactions with Jontz during my days at the Republican left me impressed with how hard he worked on behalf of his constituents and his dedication to understanding the complex issues facing government. Before meeting him, I had been inclined to agree with a quote by famed journalist H. L. Mencken that the "only way for a reporter to look at a politician is down." After dealing with Jontz on a variety of issues, my view of politicians changed for the better (it returned to Mencken's opinion in later years as I realized not every politician was like Jontz).

Jontz's services to the citizens of Indiana inspired me to write about his life and career in the pages of Traces magazine. My article on him appeared in the fall 2010 issue and provoked a positive response from his friends, relatives, and former staff members. Realizing there was more to be said, I worked with his mother, Polly Jontz Lennon, and his sister, Mary Lee Turk, to produce this biography.

Is there a moment during his lifetime that typifies Jontz's political life?

One anecdote immediately springs to mind told by Kathy Altman, a key member of his congressional staff. On the eve of Election Day in November 1974, Altman and her husband were driving back to their home in Monticello, Indiana, after a long day on the campaign trail working on behalf of a Democratic congressional candidate. They came upon Jontz, who himself was finishing up a long day campaigning for a seat in the Indiana House of Representatives. They offered him a ride, but he responded, "No, it's late, but there's a laundromat up there that's still open I think I'll hit before I quit for the night." The next day Jontz defeated his heavily favored GOP opponent by just two votes. ("One more vote than I needed to win," Jontz proclaimed after the election.) Jontz believed in working as hard as possible not only during a campaign, but afterwards on behalf of his constituents. He was the hardest-working man in politics.

Is there one issue in particular that Jontz focused on during his political career?

Jontz always seemed to be on the side of average, working people during his days in the Indiana legislature and as a congressman--working for the "public interest, not special interests," as he called it. His passion, however, was protecting the environment. Jontz first ran for office because of his interest in the environment, running for state representative to stop a proposed U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' dam/reservoir project on Big Pine Creek in Warren County, Indiana--an effort supported by powerful business interests in the state. As he noted, "I gave a damn about a dam." Due to the pressure exerted by Jontz and the citizens of the country, the project was abandoned. 

For years afterward, Jontz used this victory of average citizens against politically powerful foes as an important lesson to young and old alike "who see injustice and want to believe that you can make a difference--you can make a difference.

Ironically, the issue that had sparked his political career—the environment—became one of the issues that lead to Jontz’s defeat to his Republican challenger Steve Buyer in the 1992 general election. His stand against allowing private companies leases at below market value to cut logs from portions of national forest lands owned by the federal government so inflamed western carpenter unions—worried about losing their jobs if firms could no longer harvest the timber—that they traveled to Indiana to campaign against Jontz’s re-election. Still, he never regretted his stand.

Are you working on a new book?

I hope one day to do a biographer of another political-minded Hoosier, John Bartlow Martin. Martin was one of America's best freelance journalists in the 1950s, writing for such notable publications as the Saturday Evening Post, Harper's, and Collier's. "When I hit my stride," he once noted, "I was writing a million words a year." He turned from journalism to politics in the 1952 presidential election, working for Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson. From that point, he worked for every Democratic presidential candidate until his death in 1987. 

As a former reporter myself, and someone who has always been interested in politics, Martin is the perfect subject.

Interview with POW Book Author

John C. Shively (seen in the photograph at left on a visit to Tarawa) is a practicing physician with a longtime interest in World War II. He lives in Lafayette, Indiana. He is the author of The Last Lieutenant: A Foxhole View of the Epic Battle for Iwo Jima, published by Indiana University Press in 2006. Here he answers questions about his new book from the IHS Press, Profiles in Survival: The Experiences of American POWs in the Philippines during World War II.

What inspired you to write about Indiana POWs of the Japanese in the Philippines during World War II?

A few years ago a colleague of mine mentioned that her uncle had been on the Bataan Death March. I told her that I would be interested in meeting him to hear about his experience. Over the course of the next couple of years I interviewed Bill Clark of Sullivan, Indiana, and wrote his story that served as the basis for the chapter about him in my book, Profiles in Survival.  I met Hugh Sims through another colleague and wrote about his experience. This served as the basis for the chapter about him. 

During my research about the fall of the Philippines, the Death March, and the POW experience I learned about other Hoosiers who had survived the war as POWs of the Japanese. The common thread through the descriptions of their experiences as POWs was their dogged determination to survive no matter what the Japanese did to them. After hearing and reading what they went through I decided that these stories needed to be preserved so that future generations would not forget that during some of the darkest days of World War II in the Pacific, when it seemed that their situation was hopeless, they refused to give up. They may have been ordered to surrender and lay down their arms and submit themselves as prisoners to the Japanese, but they did not surrender their humanity or their dignity. America may have seemingly forgotten them, but they did not waver in their love for and belief in America. They tenaciously held on to their ability to overcome their predicament and never lost faith in themselves or their cause. The Japanese beat and abused them, but they could not extinguish the flames that fuel the human spirit and the innate survival instinct. It is a lesson for us all. 
Have you always been interested in the Pacific theater of operations?

I have been interested in World War II since I was in high school, but it was not until I began talking with my Uncle Jim Craig about his experience in the battle of Iwo Jima that I began to narrow my interest to the Pacific theater. My interest in the Pacific theater was almost by default. Nearly all of the Hoosiers I have interviewed fought in the Pacific. World War II was a very complicated war. I thought it would be too much try to become an expert on both the European and the Pacific theaters. Early on, I remember making the conscious decision to limit my study to just the Pacific theater. Only until the last few years does it seems that it has gotten its due recognition that the European theater has enjoyed for many years. I don't pretend to understand the reasons for this apparent bias toward the European theater. But, to me the Pacific war is far more interesting and dramatic. 

Is there one portion of the POWs story that had the greatest effect on you while you were writing the book?

The one part of the POW experience that most moved me was the sheer brutality and disregard for human life and suffering perpetrated by the Japanese guards on their American and Filipino captives. This was most vividly demonstrated during the immediate post-surrender period and more graphically during the Bataan Death March. After the surrender, the POWs were subjected to the most humiliating and degrading treatment even before the Death March began. The treatment of defenseless POWs during the Death March defies understanding and comprehension. Along the Death March route, Japanese guards routinely murdered prisoners for the most trifling offenses or for mere sport. They had absolutely no regard for the pain and suffering of their captives. And, this brutal treatment was not limited to American and Filipino combatants.  Philippine civilians caught throwing food to the prisoners or otherwise demonstrating solidarity with them were singled out by the Japanese guards and routinely beaten, raped, and murdered. It was very disturbing to hear and read about these events, but I included them in the book without withholding any details. I thought it necessary to set the unvarnished record straight.
How did these POWs survive the horrible treatment they received during their captivity?

This is a very good question and one I am not entirely sure I have an adequate answer to. Given what I have heard from ex-POWs and an understanding of the conditions in the camps and aboard the hellships, the brutal and inhumane treatment by the guards, the rampant disease, both infectious and nutritional, in the camps, and the psychological trauma brought on by a sense of utter hopelessness and despondency that the prisoners experienced, I don't see how any of them survived. I think most people subjected to these conditions for any length of time would have given up and just crawled into a hole to die as a way to end their misery. Some in the camps did, but many did not. What personality traits separated those who would survive from those who gave up and died? There had to be something else that some had that others did not.

I got to know quite well two ex-POWs having spent much time with them over the years. Both are now deceased, but while I knew them I had a chance to look into their psyches. Both were obstinate, bullheaded, and stubborn almost to a fault. I believe it was these traits that saw them through the most trying time in their lives and allowed them to survive nearly three years as POWs. In some cases such as on the hellships, an unquestionable degree of luck was important. But, it took more than luck to survive three years of hell under the Japanese. It is my conviction that the only way these two ex-POWs would not survive the war was if the Japanese simply murdered them. They made up their minds early during their captivity that they were going to survive. I think this kind of an attitude was essential to surviving. 

Do you have another book project in mind?

Yes, I have a couple ides for another book. I know another ex-POW who has a compelling story about his experience in the war. He survived the Death March and was in Camp Cabanatuan when it was liberated by 6th Rangers on January 30, 1945. I also have interviewed two principle participants who played pivotal roles in the success of the raid to liberate the POWs in the camp. I would like to write a book that would include the POW story, and the stories of these two other warriors' experiences in the war that ultimately brought these three together in the climactic raid on Cabanatuan. One of these was a Ranger who planned and led the raid. The other one was an Alamo Scouts who reconnoitered the camp the day before the raid to gather intelligence about the Japanese disposition in the camp. This intelligence was invaluable to the Rangers in their final plans for the raid. Little is known of the Rangers and the Alamo Scouts and their contribution to the war effort in the Pacific other than the raid on the camp. The book I have in mind would include all three of these stories. They would be told separately until the night of January 30, 1945, when they converge at Camp Cabanatuan for the liberation of the camp.

The other idea is for a book about a general history of the Pacific war that would include the stories I have collected over the past ten years from interviewing Hoosier vets of the war. I plan to insert these stories into the various chapters about the war that cover the iconic battles in which these Hoosiers participated. In this way, the reader would learn about the war in broad strokes, but would also learn about it from the personal perspective by those who fought it. I think this is a more compelling and interesting way to learn history  It might well serve as a textbook for young Hoosier students who want to learn more about not only the war, but about the contribution to the war effort by Hoosiers who went before them.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Biography of Indiana Congressman Published

On the eve of Election Day in November 1974, a lonely figure trudged down the road in Monticello, Indiana. Jim Jontz, a young, first-time candidate for the Indiana House of Representatives, was finishing up a long day of campaigning. Offered a ride by a local Democratic Party volunteer at whose house he had been staying, Jontz answered: “No, it’s late, but there’s a laundromat up there that’s still open I think I’ll go hit before I quit for the night.”

The next day Jontz, a twenty-two-year-old Indiana University graduate with an unpaid job as a caretaker for a local nature preserve, defeated his heavily favored Republican opponent, John M. “Jack” Guy, Indiana House Majority Leader by a razor-thin two-vote margin. “One more vote than I needed to win!” he later exclaimed. The unexpected result stunned election officials, with one deputy clerk in Warren County marveling, “I never before realized just how important that one vote can be.”

Written by award-winning author Ray E. Boomhower, The People's Choice: Congressman Jim Jontz of Indiana, is the first-ever biography of Jontz. The book examines his remarkable long shot political career and lifetime involvement in local, state, and national environmental issues. As a liberal Democrat (he preferred the terms progressive or populist) usually running in conservative districts, Jontz had political pundits predicting his defeat in every election only to see him celebrating another victory with his happy supporters, always clad in a scruffy plaid jacket with a hood from high school that he wore for good luck. “I always hope for the best and fight for the worst,” said Jontz. He won five terms as state representative for the Twentieth District (Benton, Newton, Warren, and White Counties), served two years in the Indiana Senate, and captured three terms in the U.S. Congress representing the sprawling Fifth Congressional District in northwestern Indiana that stretched from Lake County in the north to Grant County in the south. Jontz told a reporter that his political career had always “been based on my willingness and role as a spokesman for the average citizen.”

From his first campaign for elective office until his death from colon cancer in 2007, Jontz had an abiding passion for protecting the environment. A dam project that threatened to destroy the scenic Fall Creek Gorge area in Warren County inspired Jontz to enter the political fray, and he continued his conservation efforts in Washington, D.C., sponsoring legislation to help protect old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest—an attempt that made him a hero to many environmentalists, but enraged timber-industry supporters and fellow congressmen. Although it might sound too grandiose to say that Jontz wanted to save the planet, his former wife, Elaine Caldwell Emmi, noted “that was his ultimate goal, to be a spokesman for those that couldn’t speak—the trees, the animals, the air, the water.”
Boomhower is senior editor with the Indiana Historical Society Press, where he edits the quarterly popular history magazine Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History. His previous books have included biographies of author and Civil War general Lew Wallace, famed Hoosier war correspondent Ernie Pyle, suffragette and peace activist May Wright Sewall, World War II photographer John A. Bushemi, astronaut Gus Grissom, and U.S. Navy ace Alex Vraciu.

The People's Choice costs $24.95 and is available from the IHS Basile History Market,

Book Examines POWs during World War II

The stories of seven men and one woman from Indiana who survived the horrors of captivity under the Japanese in the Pacific during World War II are captured in vivid detail by author John Shively in his book Profiles in Survival: The Experiences of American POWs in the Philippines during World War II. These Hoosiers stationed in the Philippines were ordered to surrender following the fall of Bataan and Corregidor in 1942. It was the largest surrender of American armed forces in U.S. history. For many, it was the beginning of three years of hell starting with the infamous Bataan Death March, facing brutal conditions in POW camps in the Philippines, and horrific journeys to Japan for some onboard what came to be known as “hellships.”
Former Indiana governor Edgar D. Whitcomb, one of those featured in the book, notes that the American prisoners had to endure “unimaginable misery and brutality at the hands of sadistic Japanese guards,” as they were routinely beaten and many were executed for the most minor offenses, or for mere sport. Shively, said Whitcomb, has “done a masterful job of recounting the realities of life as a Japanese prisoner. These poignant stories attest to the innate enduring human struggle and drive to survive, tenacity in the face of adversity, and the dogged determination and unwillingness to give up when all seemed lost and hopeless.”
In addition to Whitcomb, those profiled include Irvin Alexander, Harry Brown, William Clark, James Duckworth, Eleanor Garen, Melvin McCoy, and Hugh Sims.

Shively is a practicing physician with a longtime interest in World War II. He lives in Lafayette, Indiana. He is the author of The Last Lieutenant: A Foxhole View of the Epic Battle for Iwo Jima, published by Indiana University Press in 2006.

Profiles in Survival costs $27.95 and is available from the  IHS Basile History Market,