REVIEW: When We Meet Again by Carla Kelly
If you must fight a war, make it good one, so you can entertain admiring children and grandchildren years in the future.
What if your World War II stories are nothing more glamorous than an aircraft factory in boring Kansas, or a sugar beet farm in Southeast Wyoming
Dear Ms. Kelly,
When I saw this book arc, I leapt on it, partly because you wrote it and partly because it’s a slight change from your usual. Yes, both stories are historical but they take place during World War II and both are also set in the US rather than overseas.Both have sweet and gentle moments as well as loss suffered and stoically endured. There’s a little sex but not much. American characters are very patriotic and dedicated to the Allies winning the war but, in the second story, also able to see people as people.
“All My Love”
Veronica “Ronnie” Green is slightly bored with her job at a Five and Dime store in Ponca CIty, OK. She finally gives into the recruitment poster “the one showing a young woman in uniform, looking more valiant than Prince Valiant, with the same steely-eyed determination. An American flag fluttered behind her, a fitting sight for the caption, “Are you the girl with a Star-Spangled heart? Join the WAC now!” The recruiter promises that she’ll see the world but her mad typing skills land her a job as a secretary for the (pulled out of retirement) Lt Col who oversees B-25 production at an aircraft factory in Kansas City. Disappointed to miss going to England, Ronnie nevertheless does the job she’s supposed to do, typing and filing reports that she’s sure no one will ever read.
But on a Greyhound bus returning from compassionate leave home, Ronnie meets Master Sergeant Brown, an Army MP. A little later, an emergency gets them closer, and when Ronnie returns to her job, she grasps her courage and finagles some information out of her boss – the one who had regaled her with a story about his father’s time in the Army after the Civil War. Lt Col Dignam takes lots of opportunities to help Young Love along but when Ernie Brown gets shipped back to France right before Germany’s last desperate offensive and then Ronnie hears nothing from him, she’s afraid that she loves a man she’ll never have.
The losses that many American families faced as well as the struggles that returning vets faced are shown with quiet compassion. I loved the fact that in their letters, Ronnie and Ernie get to know each other and that Ernie pushes Ronnie to also take advantage of the GI Bill, too. Since both of their fathers never graduated from high school, it’s a big dream, up until now one barely hoped for, that both have. As the story is told totally from Ronnie’s POV, we only glimpse what happened in Bastogne or the German PW camps and it’s her longing for Ernie that is shown most. But the romance is steadfast, there’s actually a wedding night, and I can see (some abbreviated versions of) stories of what Ronnie and Ernie did during the great WWII that won’t involve “shoveling shit in Louisiana.” B+
“Yet I Will Love Him”
I know a little about the German and Italian PoWs (or PWs as they were called at this time) who were brought to the US and Canada (including about the one who escaped and was never recaptured until he turned himself in decades later) but I can’t recall seeing this used in a romance story before.
After her husband was killed early in the war, Audrey Allerton returned home to her father’s farm in Wyoming. With farm help hard to find, Peter Nolan informs his daughter that they would be using PWs from the nearby prisoner of war camp. Determined not to associate with the men from the military that killed her husband, Audrey soon has to change her plans. Her boss feels there’s something fishy going on at the camp and needs her assistance in rooting it out.
As she spends more time with and among the 10 prisoners who routinely work for her father, Audrey begins to learn who they are and their stories. She also begins to concur with her boss. An event solidifies the realization that terror is being meted out to those prisoners not considered to be strong enough supporters of the Reich. As Audrey and her father attempt to do the right thing, she discovers that one of the men, an Austrian former Lufthansa pilot forced to join the Luftwaffe or face a firing squad, is becoming more to her than she ever counted on.
As with many if not most of your books, I found that the characters here were basically either good or bad. Despite Audrey’s initial stance that she’d have nothing to do with them, soon she and her father were tearing up as they came to know these men and the horrors they’d seen and endured – including at the PW camp. Audrey’s boss Walter is a wonderful principled guy who has been overlooked for most of his life but who stands firm and insists on discovering what is going on and then stopping it. Yes, these men are (mostly) Germans and they’re the enemy but Walter (among others) hopes that by treating them (fairly) well, US PWs in Europe will receive similar treatment. Walter’s eventual quiet romance is something I watched with delight.
Audrey’s own quiet romance with Gerd Gauss is composed of long glances, stolen moments of talking, shared grief at the death of spouses, attempts to help others, and a few intense kisses. Audrey initially does attempt to deny her feelings and then later puts those feelings on a shelf when she thinks they can never amount to anything. Low key is probably the best way to describe this relationship.
I was also confronted with my own feelings toward Axis PWs. In “A Higher Call” a non-fiction book about the actions of a German Luftwaffe pilot, he mentions that the German pilots viewed themselves as the last of the chivalric military officers who, though it was no longer practiced, believed in the bygone rules of parole and who did actively work to prevent the massacre of some American Air Force pilots being held prisoner.
Gerd is painted in a positive light as first an Austrian, then a pilot forced into the war, and then an NCO looking out for the welfare of his men. But he still flew Messerschmitts and had earned a Knight’s Cross. I guess as an Afrika Corps pilot he was positioned in a way that excluded him from being directly responsible for most Axis atrocities but neither he nor most of his men were non-combatants. I’ve read articles about how most men held in US PW camps returned to Europe with positive feelings towards America which helped to solidify Germany as a post war ally. In addition, these men worked in Europe for a year after the war helping Allied countries clean up the rubble that Axis aggression had caused. Though Gerd is portrayed as an honorable man and both he and Audrey have to face their own feelings that loved ones were killed by the “other side,” this aspect of the story might be a sticking point for readers. B
Does anyone remember 1973’s “Summer of My German Soldier” by Bette Greene? I remember as a teenager thinking it was romantic and tragic. I didn’t have any problems with the soldier, Anton, because he was a “good” German, who hated Hitler. I wonder if it would read differently now that I’m (much) older. Anyway, the description of “Yet I Will Love Him” gives me the same vibe.
@SusanS: Yes, I remember hearing about the book and the movie although I haven’t read/watched either one. That is definitely the vibe for the second story. There’s also another movie from the late 70s/early 80s (IIRC) about a PW camp in the US where the type of prisoner on prisoner for political views violence is going on but I can’t remember the name of it. All I can recall is that there was an American doctor who gets alerted to what is going on by a German PW and tries to get the violence stopped. Does anyone know the movie I’m thinking of?
Thanks for your review, Jayne; this does sound appealing. I have read some Carla Kelly books that were set in the US but none as recent as WWII.
@Kareni: I think this is the most recent book of hers that I recall, too.
Yay! New Carla Kelly!! Thank you for reviewing this. Now I’m off to add this to the TBR mountain with the certainty that I’ll enjoy it.
I vaguely remember the movie you are talking about, but so far Google and Imdb are not being very helpful…
@Barb in Maryland:
Yep, I’ve been checking those and typing in “German POWs in America during WWII TV movie” and only getting “Summer of My German Soldier.” I seem to recall that the actors playing the doctor and one of the main PWs were well known to me but I can’t think of their names.
All My Love sounds pretty good.
With regard to Yet I Will Love Him, I’m sure that Axis POW’s were composed of people with a range of political beliefs and feelings about the war, and I’m sure some were pressured or even pressed hard into joining the military. But still I don’t think I can look past the fact that the Reich was responsible for millions of unnecessary deaths, many of them cruel deaths, and a background of participating in that is not something I want to see in a romance. It’s not heroic or romantic to me in any way.
I don’t remember hearing about this. Can you share details or post a link? I’m curious.
Oh also—does anyone know of a real life case where someone who was forced to join the Luftwaffe or face a firing squad? I’ve never heard of one but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen; I would just like to know if there’s a basis for this backstory in history.
@janine — even if they were forced under the direst circumstances to fight for the Nazi regime, they didn’t have to continue to do it. I’m with you — not something I want to read. I’m appalled, actually.
Incidentally, I found a news story about one deserter:
@Claudia: This was an era where people were executed for desertion if they were caught, and many were. I have some understanding for why someone wouldn’t attempt it even if they hated what the Nazis were doing, but I still recoil from the idea of reading about such a person in a romance hero context. It’s not as horrifying as the book about the concentration camp Commandant and the Jewish Holocaust prisoner but it’s still a hard no for me.
@Janine: This is from her author’s note –
Perhaps she found some mention of a POW with that background?
Here is a link to her website. https://carlakellyauthor.com
I originally read about him years ago in an article in Smithsonian Magazine about German POWs held in the US during the war.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_prisoners_of_war_in_the_United_States – Scroll to the very bottom of the webpage in the section “After the War” –
“A total of 2,222 German POWs escaped from their camps. Most were recaptured within a day. The US government could not account for seven prisoners when they were repatriated. Georg Gärtner, who escaped from a POW camp in Deming, New Mexico on September 21, 1945, to avoid being repatriated to Silesia, occupied by the Soviet Union, remained at large until 1985. After the war, the other few escaped prisoners were recaptured or surrendered. After Kurt Rossmeisl—who had lived in Chicago for 14 years—surrendered, Gärtner was the only remaining escapee who had not been captured. He assumed a new identity as Dennis F. Whiles and lived quietly in California, Colorado, and Hawaii before coming forward in 1985. Although wanted by the United States government for years, Gärtner was granted permission to remain and became a naturalized US citizen in 2009. He lived under his adopted name Dennis Whiles, and wrote a book about his life, Hitler’s Last Soldier in America.”
@Jayne: I missed this. Thank you! I followed the link to a whole Wikipedia page on him.
It makes for fascinating reading. Not in a romance though!