It's been a long road to publishing a book about a long road from Indiana to Vietnam.
Now, authors Randy and Roxanne Mills bring the story of Princeton's Dick Wolfe back home to St. Joseph Catholic Church in Princeton Nov. 16 for a 6 p.m. presentation and signing event for Summer Wind: A Soldier's Road from Indiana to Vietnam.
Mills and his wife, both Oakland City University professors, wrote the story of the young man through the letters he wrote from Vietnam to his mother, his brother, his wife and his friend Ralph "Butch" Davis.
Davis, a former Princeton police chief and an adjunct professor at OCU, served in Vietnam during the same period as Wolfe, and escorted Wolfe's body home when he was killed in action in January 1968. He shared his memories of Wolfe with Mills for months.
Davis passed away earlier this year. "We are very sad Butch did not live to see the final product, although he was able to read two drafts," Mills said Thursday. The two grew to be friends through teaching at OCU and working on the book, and Davis asked Mills to officiate at his funeral. "... I think he trusted we with his story. That was quite a privilege."
When the book was published this month, Mills and his wife discussed where they should do the first presentation. "We got to talking about it, whether we should do it in Indianapolis or Evansville, and I thought 'Let's do it at Dick's church, that's the community that has the story, the church where he grew up."
Getting Wolfe's story to print was another road. In a Daily Clarion story in the the spring of 2015, when Mills and Davis were talking about the near-finished book, Mills hoped to get a publisher in 2016. "We got proposals out to several university academic presses ... and it was gummed up, timewise."
Mills, who has authored other military history books, said the initial response was "'Wow, you're going to get a contract, this is a great story.' Then we waited, for months. That happened about a half a dozen times," he said. Eventually, he found the right
See Story/Page C6
fit, but not before a good friend who is a best-selling author cautioned him that he had a great story, but it was about ordinary people.
Dick Wolfe and Butch Davis were ordinary people, the people Mills wanted to write about.
It's a story about ordinary people that hit home with reviewers. Gibson Countian Gary E. May wrote a forward: "I am cognizant of the fact that the emotional engagement I felt in reading Summer Wind: A Soldier's Road from Indiana to Vietnam is heightened by the fact that I'm a disabled Vietnam combat marine. This book will be appealing to my fellow Vietnam veterans. But it's not just for veterans. The story is a real-time chronicling of the impact of the war in the nominal world known as Princeton, Indiana, written with a simple eloquence that puts flesh on the skeleton of an understanding of war's pervasive and lasting horrors."
Mills and his wife worked with Davis, and with Wolfe's family to bring the story to life. Revisiting the letters meant, in some ways, revisiting the loss and the memories.
"This will be my fourth military history book, second together with Roxanne," said Mills. Reflecting on the process of bringing the story to life, he acknowledges "... When you do these intense interviews and read these letters, it affects you, it affects your dreams. It's difficult to carry that pain and organize a story around this pain and loss and tragic missteps -- that you can see so clearly now -- but at the time people were making them, they were made in good faith.
"I would actually have nightmares, but the healing thing was knowing this is making a difference, working with people like Butch and seeing the healing in talking about things for the first time, and how it was different ... and seeing finally, the movement of some understanding and healing ... To be an instrument for that made the discomfort helpful. You're doing it because you want to be a healer, you want to do it and pay the price to make that happen."
Mills lost his son in 2007. Working with Davis and Wolfe's family to write the book "... makes you feel like you've helped someone in their darkest hour. I've been in that darkest hour, so I know how valuable that its. It's a special thing to do. It was hard but it was easy ... I guess Roxanne and I both feel this way about writing. This is why we write, we write for the emotional part of it. It's always about the difference it makes. I don't think that's typical of writers."
Before he returned Wolfe's letters to his family, he discovered hundreds of photo negatives, and had prints made, thinking he may publish a second book of just the photographs Wolfe took while in Vietnam.
Mills, a native of Southern Illinois, said he eventually wants to write his rural family farm memoir of life in the rural area of far western Wayne County.
He hopes to have copies of Wolfe's story available at the Nov. 16 event. It's available for pre-order ($16.99 per copy) on Amazon.com, at Barnes and Noble and other outlets.
For more information about the book or about other works by Randy and Roxanne Mills, visit http://randrmillsauthors.com/