battling_bastards_2

Can I Borrow Your Arm?

HERALD TELLER had traveled from Jacksonville, Florida, to south of Tarlac City in the Philippines, to a place he’d rather forget, but had been etched on his heart the same as the names on the three-sided, whitewashed stone memorial. Above an embedded white cross was the name he and his friends had called themselves.

The Battling Bastards of Bataan.

Here he stood, stuck on the sidewalk, unable to climb two small steps. Unable to read the names of friends who hadn’t come home even after they’d endured as much as him.

Then he remembered Margaret in the kitchen. The smell of biscuits baking. Her leaning on the walker. Grinning, as though she stole a secret, her blue eyes as alive and lovely as when they’d first met.

“I got two tickets to paradise.”

“We’re a little old for rock ‘n roll,” he said.

“We’re never too old to remember our friends.”

Or to remember the love of his life.

The squeal of a little boy dashed his memory. Couldn’t they leave him in peace? Just a few minutes?

A parent shushed the child. They stood behind him.

He turned as much as his arthritis would let him. Surprised to see the Marine in his Class A uniform. Medals on his chest, ones he recognized; gold stripes on black sleeves, blue pants with bright red piping. This man had served his country far longer than he had.

“First Sergeant?” he asked.

“Sergeant Major.” the Marine replied.

“Purple Heart, too?”

“Three of them, sir.”

“Dear God.”

“Yes, sir. He was on my mind. IED and a mortar in Iraq. Firefight in Afghanistan.”

“Your men?”

The Marine’s silence said he knew what it was like to see men die.

“Where’s my manners,” the Marine said. “This is my wife Susie and our son Robert. He’s named after my father. Also a Marine. I’m Philip Baker.”

“Staff Sergeant Herald Teller. Army.”

“You here by yourself?”

“I buried my wife a week ago.”

Baker looked to his wife, a Filipina about shoulder tall. The fidgety mestizo boy tugged at her clingy yellow dress. She picked him up, brushed black hair from his eyes. Her eyes were watering.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “Margaret always said I needed tact. Never found any.”

“We’re sorry for your loss,” Baker said.

“She’d been pestering me to come. Said a memory is like a good arm to hold on to.”

“Your friends?” The Sergeant Major nodded at the wall.

“You know why they have those walls?” the old soldier asked.

“To remember.”

“That’s right,” he said, “remember that we made it and they didn’t.”

“There’s a question in there somewhere.”

“I can see why your men looked up to you.”

“Why me?” Baker pondered, familiar with the questions, “How come you lived and your buddies didn’t?”

He nodded.

“We all want the answer to that question.”

“So you don’t know?”

The Sergeant Major whispered in his wife’s ear and she carried the small boy away. Baker faced him. “Have you ever told anyone what happened?”

He smelled wood burning. Then the powerful scent of toyo in frying grease. Filipino fried fish was an acquired taste, one he picked up a lifetime ago. His stomach grumbled. Could he stand long enough to tell the whole story, especially in this sticky heat?

“Since you’re not answering,” Baker said, “I’m assuming you haven’t.”

“You really want to hear this?”

“We’re comrades in arms, Staff Sergeant. We’ve fought and bled for our country. And I try real hard to never to use these medals, but I think these three Purple Hearts earns me the right to hear your story.”

He couldn’t argue since he owned a Purple Heart, too. “But at the end, can you answer my question?”

“Let’s hear what you have to say, then we’ll see.”

His mind drifted to long ago. To when there’d been no sidewalk leading to a monument for the fallen. When diesel fumes choked him as a line of personnel carriers passed. Pairs of worn boots dragged along a gravel road.  He smelled the stink of sweaty men who were dead but just didn’t know it yet.

He saw small boats fighting through the surf. Salt soured on his tongue. If not for the men scrambling onto the beach carrying rifles, today might have been good one for an ocean swim. Instead he stared at his three-inch gun. If he had ammunition, he could fight. Now the Army wanted him to pick up a rifle. He’d do it, but only because he had to.

His stomach grumbled. He’d learned to ignore it because MacArthur had cut rations. So much for the promised resupply. Then the General cut them again.

A gnarled and filthy rag smeared the sweat on his face. He sipped warm water from his canteen; could’ve drank the whole thing but knew better. His uniform sagged as though he were a scarecrow without the stuffing. He waited at the edge of the jungle, while his friends peeled off for the latrine. They left a lot of holes. He’d follow them soon.

Docs had run out of quinine. Yellow fever, amebic dysentery, and beriberi ate them up, along with too many other jungle diseases he’d never heard of.

“We have to go Marivales,” Tommy Dean said, his best friend since basic training. They’d decided to take orders to the Philippines knowing they might be in this fight. Now they wondered if they’d made the right choice.

In Marivales, a line of Japanese tanks and armor rumbled toward him. Dozens of personnel carriers coughed black diesel smoke. Wide-eyed Japs jumped from the trucks and surrounded them. He wasn’t sure if their scraggly looking uniforms or stick thin bodies scared the soldiers or if it were the thousands of Americans and Filipinos that had surrendered.

A Japanese enlisted man positioned a wooden crate; the squat officer looked hot in long sleeves. Red squares with gold stars were embroidered into his olive drab collars and a red sash circled his combination hat. He stood on the crate and squeezed a sheathed sword, then raised and lowered the weapon. Japs rushed into the crowd.

He saw scared faces. He saw angry faces. He saw men doing what they were ordered to do.

They were as confused as him.

He had wanted to kill them. But not now. Not with faces younger than his.

The point of a sheathed sword prodded him. Lots of units had surrendered. No telling how many men. The guy ahead of him dropped his rifle in front of the officer on the crate. The Japs kept pushing. Dean foolishly yelled at one of them. The steel blade grinded as it slid out, its shiny point deftly tucked under Tommy’s chin.

He’d never forget the Jap’s angry eyes. Ready to run that blade through Tommy’s throat.

The officer in front grunted. Tommy’s guard slammed the steel handle on his cheek; a wide gash dripped red.

That tinny smell of blood. It never left him.

The military called it milling about smartly and thats how it felt, as the Japs huddled him into one of the many disorganized groups.

“What do they want?” John Sturgeon, a lanky boy from Texas, from his sister artillery unit, asked. The Japs kept poking at him with their rifle barrels.

“I think they want you to bow?”

“What for?” John asked.

“Do I look Japanese?” he said.

Sturgeon stood a head taller, although a lot thinner. When he didn’t bow, the thicker of the two guards slammed his rifle butt into his stomach and bent Sturgeon in two.

The officer standing on the crate smiled.

The officers minions didn’t look like they wanted to hit them, but they had no choice.

When John still didn’t bow, the soldiers punched his face and kicked his backside as though he were a misbehaving child. A sheathed sword slashed behind his legs dropped him to his knees as the gravel stabbed him. They let him be after that.

From his wandering group he watched the Japanese gather hundreds of Filipino Scouts and back them against the jungle. The officer on the crate screamed to his men. They didn’t look happy with the order, but they followed it.

Shots echoed. He didn’t watch them die, instead, looked at the soldiers with their guns.  Scared and pissed off, not one had the courage to face their officer.  He almost pitied them.  By the time each of them dropped their rifles, they’d left three piles the size of small hills.

He could have mooed, the way the Japs herded them like cattle.

Except that’s when the yelling and screaming started.

And the killing.

A gun barrel poked his rib, without even enough meat to ease the stab. He plodded along, with thousands of prisoners and didn’t think about where they were headed.

Lucky for him he found Dean and Sturgeon in his weary group. Those who couldn’t walk were left. He tried to help one man but the butt of a sword changed his mind.

Screams followed him. Gooseflesh chilled his sweaty arms in hundred degree heat.

He didn’t know what the Japs wanted but even the Japs didn’t seem to know what they wanted. He guessed they hadn’t expected this many men would surrender.

When enough men dropped in the dirt the Japanese decided to stop.

Without a leaf of shade, he was lucky he’d kept his hat. The more follicle-challenged heads looked like red pool balls.

Japs watched from the shade. Sipping water from canteens, grinning and laughing. One pointed at him, walked over and tipped his canteen so the water missed his mouth. He dropped to the ground and tried to drink it but the dirt was quicker. The soldier laughed at him, then drew his sword. Dean and Sturgeon dragged him away. The Jap returned to the shade to replay the joke with his friends.

During those first hours, they took anything of value, including watches. He marched for four hours or ten; hard to tell the difference. Bivouacked near a small village, two older women carried water, pretty with high cheeks and a touch of gray in their black hair. The Japs stole the buckets and the women left when the soldiers looked at them as though they wanted more than water. He was glad they’d ran and hoped they’d be okay.

Then the Japs ate. Not them, not that he had the strength to chew.

Cramps woke him during the night. His guts knotting like a tightening rope. Groans drifted through the ranks. A tall guy from an infantry outfit grunted himself to his feet and he followed him to a plank. He cleared the sleep from his eyes and pinched his nose, not that it mattered. He had to go . . . now.

He stepped on the plank and slipped. Maggots squiggled except where footprints squished them. At least he had boots, rotten as they were. He thanked God for reaching the other end. He took his turn and squeezed water that smelled as though it came from a dead man. With dysentery and rations that wouldn’t feed a mouse, it was the best he could do.

The morning of the third day the Japs forced them into formation; four abreast, an unending line of tortured souls. He learned quickly to stay to the inside. Those on the outside were prime targets. Bored men were terribly cruel.

The Japs let them stop by a river. He snuck away with Dean and Sturgeon. The jungle canopied them, a few minutes of shade almost as cool and sweet as the water looked. He went to dip his canteen but Sturgeon grabbed his arm. A dead caribou floated in the current. Right behind was the grayish body of a headless Filipino soldier.

“We need water,” he said.

“Use this.” Sturgeon produced a paper pouch of chlorine powder he’d somehow hid from the Japs.

He felt guilty they had powder but the best he could do was survive.

Which he did. For six agonizing days and sixty-five miles.

Six hundred Americans died on the Bataan Death March, ten thousand Filipinos.

His legs felt like soaked logs, his feet skidded more than walked. He saw a small barrio ahead and a train. Finally, he and his friends didn’t have to march. Maybe they could rest.

If only it had been that easy.

He hesitated behind Sturgeon and Dean when the Japs slid the rusty railcar door open. Lots of men in front of them. Three-quarters full when he climbed inside and more men followed. When the door slammed, it reminded him of what his drill sergeant yelled during basic training.

Nut to butt.

He could stand, not kneel, not sit and certainly not lay down.

Vents were closed, only stifling still air. Men did their business where they stood. He’d lived in filth so long he thought he could handle it. Until he began to cook inside the box.

The train jerked.

Please let the air move.

It didn’t.

An hour into the train ride, the guy in between him and Dean stopped squirming.

“Herald, that guy against my back is cold.”

“I know,” he said.

“It’s too hot for that.”

“Tommy, don’t.”

Dean shook his head and mumbled, “No, no, no.” Then he grew louder. “I wanna go home. I wanna go home.”

Heads turned their way. He slapped Dean up side his head and caught enough sweat that he licked it. Too salty. What he’d give for a few drops of real water.

Dean settled enough to ask, “What are we going to do?”

“Just keep breathing until this train stops.”

“Stinks.”

“Yeah, but it won’t kill you.”

Dean shook his head side to side and continued to mutter.

Nut to butt.

Thanks a lot, Drill Sergeant.

He leaned against the cold dead man when the brakes squealed. The doors opened. Japs screamed and waved. He stumbled, jumped, and then tumbled in the dirt but at least it was cooler and fresher than the stinky oven.

Guilt chided him when he saw the ashen bodies on the railcar floor. The Japs forced him to climb back in to remove his comrades. He hauled bodies to the jungle. No time for last words; war stole everything.

He was shoved back into formation, four abreast. Now he knew; marching was better than the alternative.

He read the sign that said he’d arrived at Camp O’Donnell. Razor wire encircled the Philippine fort, guard towers at one-hundred-foot intervals, rotting buildings with the appeal of a graveyard.

His company commander, Major Charlie Donovan, called cadence with a Brooklyn accent, not that he had the strength to march in step.

As they entered the camp a Japanese captain pointed to the ground. He sat with his company in formation. An enlisted man brought the captain a box. He’d never forget what the captain said, as he stood, fist to hips.

“We hate you! You are our enemies. If you try to escape we will kill you. Because you have surrendered you must do everything we tell you. You are not prisoners of war but our captives.”

The Japs marched them to their new home; a roach-infested barracks with wood beds. Without a blanket, he shivered to keep warm as rats chewed the calluses off the bottom of his feet. Shuttered windows impeded breezes, else he might have slept. Didn’t matter. Japs rushed the aisles and beat him and others with bamboo sticks, chased them out the door, leaving welts on his legs, as they yelled the same word. “Tinko. Tinko.” A prisoner count.

Major Donovan stood in front of the formation. One of a dozen in the camp. A cold rain soaked him. The Japanese didn’t care.

The Japanese captain stood on his box. “Corregidor has fallen. The Philippines are part of the Empire. Bow to the Emperor.”

He and his friends didn’t move. The Japs wailed on them.

“Enough,” Major Donavan yelled.

For the first time he’d stood on the outside and dizziness swooned him. “Tommy, mind if I use your arm.”

Tommy stuck out his elbow and he hooked it.

Sturgeon saw what Tommy did and offered his arm. Tommy hooked it the same way. The next man followed. And the next. Before long every man in all twelve companies had hooked arms.

The major winked, turned back, and stood at silent attention facing the Jap officer.

Rain puddled around boots and bare feat.

The little prick grinned.

Chow after formation. He carried a tin with a ration of burnt rice and soupy vegetables that would fit in the palm of his hand. He sat with Dean and Sturgeon, as the rain matted his hair. A few quick bites of the tasteless meal left an empty tin.

After chow, he and Dean reported for work detail. The Jap sergeant led them to the back of the infirmary; a place his friends named St. Peter’s Ward. The sergeant snapped a tarp off of naked lifeless men and grunted.

He grabbed the ankles. Dean snagged the wrists. Slippery  heavy, it was easy to count ribs in the body that was ashen and stiff. Some bloat in the legs and arms made it clear this soldier hadn’t been dead as long as the others. The dead man had brown hair, maybe twenty. Shouldn’t he smell bad? Or maybe he was the one who smelled like death. He shivered.

He and Dean lugged the corpse across the camp and through a small gate and hiked a path into the jungle. The smell of death soured in his mouth like rancid meat. They stopped at the muddy edge, swung the body back and forth and then tossed it; adding to the growing mountain of gray corpses that matched the rainy gloom. The Jap sergeant growled. He and Dean headed to the camp to pick up another dead comrade.

Major Donovan had called it the “line of twos.”

Strange how he remembered things he wished he could forget.

Six weeks later on a sunny sweltering morning the Japs shoved Dean, Sturgeon, and him onto a crammed personnel carrier. He tore his pants on a jagged piece of metal; not that his pants or shirt were any great shakes.

But they’d left Camp O’Donnell and the line of twos. Maybe his fortune would change.

He was such an idiot.

Camp O’Donnell began his prison camp tour. The first of four that Dean, Sturgeon, and him survived at, for more than two and a half years. Too many memories, most he’d rather not relieve, but some things a man can’t forget.

Dean kicked his Cabanatuan prison bunk. Roaches clamored through the cracks.

He yawned and frowned. “Thanks a lot.”

“Why,” Dean said. “A little shaving cream and you can fry those bad boys. Better than what they feed us.”

“Japs aren’t eating too well, either,” he said.

“Never mind.” Dean waved. “Hurry up before they come in here with those bamboo beaters.”

“Counting us again?”

“I don’t think so.”

He joined Dean and Sturgeon in formation. All the men stood at attention. In front of the formation were ten men, three bare-chested, ribs showing. A line of ten Japs with rifles stood a few yards away.

The Jap captain had followed them from Camp O’Donnell and once again, he stood on his crate. “This is what happens when men escape.” the captain grunted.

The soldiers raised their rifles and fired. Blood misted the morning air, as the line of dead piled on wavy tall grass.

The warm breeze chilled him.

The escapes continued; so did the executions.

At least life improved, as much as it could, at Davao Penal Colony. He’d been very happy to leave Cabanatuan. He even had a chance to enjoy a Christmas.

Japanese Lieutenant Yuki was a Christian. The officer authorized a Christmas party.

Skits, carols, and better rations for the first time then he could remember. He even recited the entire Twas The Night Before Christmas poem from memory.

He traded some quan with Dean and Sturgeon. He and his friends had taken advantage of Yuki’s good nature, stealing vegetables and fruits from the gardens they maintained, they went well with his Red Cross care package the Japanese passed out after the Christmas meal. Cookies, toothpaste, shaving cream—to fry those roaches—and even boots. The Japs kept the boots as an incentive to work.

A few weeks later Major Donovan popped into his barracks. He jumped to attention hoping he wouldn’t be there long, as the roaches squirmed over his toes.

“Men,” Donovan said, “Japs are offering better food and clothes if we work at a new camp.”

“What kind of work, sir?” he said.

“They haven’t said. But it has to be better than here, right?”

He looked to Dean and Sturgeon and they shrugged. He followed the major and his friends and jumped on the truck with the rest of the seven hundred and fifty volunteers heading to Lasang.

Too bad the Japs wanted to build an airstrip. His major turned a shade of red he hadn’t seen since boot camp when he’d showed up late for guard duty. Digging latrines or farming was one thing. Helping the Japs attack their comrades? Not a chance.

Major told him and the others to stall. He and his buddies spent more time leaning on shovels than slinging dirt.

Their plan worked well until the Japanese brought in Lieutenant Hashimoto. He didn’t call him than, nor did the others, instead we nicknamed him Little Caesar. Little Caesar was an asshole, built like a miniature sumo wrestler, that liked to practice judo on them.

Little Caesar’s favorite game was forcing a man to kneel on a railroad tie, then sit on his shoulders while the other man dug. When the guy slung enough dirt to suit him, Little Caesar would move on. Up and down the line of men, Little Caesar repeated the game over and over. He and every other man wanted to kill the Jap bastard. Couldn’t with all those machine guns pointed.

He’d never forget when that strong hand grabbed his shirt collar and forced him to kneel. The heavy bastard squeezed his legs and it was like trying to breath through a straw while fire-heated rail spikes stabbed into his knees. His eyes blurred but he couldn’t reach to wipe them and he thought he might pass out. That’s when the air raid siren whirred.

He blinked enough to watch the bombers zoom overhead. A beautiful white star on the rear of each fuselage. American birds dropped their eggs, the ground trembled and the twilight lit in a red-orange glow, leaving pond-sized craters over the airstrip. His buddies cheered. He kept crying, even after Little Caesar climbed off and screamed at them.

Before the sun rose, the Japs shoved Dean, Sturgeon, and him, along with the rest of the seven hundred and fifty men, onto personnel carriers and headed south. He didn’t know where and he didn’t care; any place had to be better than this.

He should have learned after the first time he thought that way.

He’d read the name of the ship, SHINYO MARU, before the Japs stuffed him in the after storage compartment, with two hundred fifty men. There he stayed for two days, till the Japs opened the hatch, hollered and waved, and he and the others climbed onto the freighter’s deck.

They marched toward the pointy end. Jap Sailors pinched their noses as he passed. The full moon in the starry night probably didn’t bode well. He confirmed it when the Japs shoved him toward the ladder at the forward hold and he climbed down and joined the remaining five hundred prisoners. He squeezed around men, and mountains of luggage, to find Dean and Sturgeon leaning against the sides of a steel support beam.

“Only place to rest, unless we take turns sitting,” Dean said. Sores covered his arms and calves; nothing soap and water couldn’t cure, if they had any.

“I have to go,” he said.

Sturgeon, with puckered lips, pointed toward the center of the hold. His friend had learned the trick from the Filipinos.

He followed the pucker to two five gallon stainless buckets. The one overflowing wasn’t water.

“Maybe I can wait,” he said. “Anyone know where we’re going?”

“Doubt it matters.” Dean adjusted his back against the support beam. “Major Donovan was screaming through the hatch for twelve hours. Thought we’d suffocate.”

“I heard the alarm,” he said.

“Our guys laying some eggs.” Sturgeon wiped his brow.

“But we’re here.”

“You see any markings to say POWs are on board?”

“Like a red cross?”

“A white one,” Sturgeon said. “And there isn’t one. I looked.”

A fearful quiet took over the hold, men glued to every word. The ship lurched.  He grabbed Dean and Sturgeon for support. Others fell. A few screamed thinking the bombs were dropping.

The ship rolled left and then right. His stomach knotted but he controlled it. Those not used to the motion puked. Others shivered in corners. Some lost their bowels. With nothing to clean them they just laid in it. After so long, he’d been inured to fecal stench.

A siren blared. The hatch closed, thrusting them into the dark. He waited, like every other man. Thirty minutes later the hatch opened. He looked up. Little Caesar towered over the hole, still haunting him. Little Caesar held a machine gun in one hand and two grenades in the other.

“If we attacked,” Little Caesar said, “these are for you.” The Jap grinned.

Same as the death march, time meant nothing. Hours or days, he couldn’t tell. Bored and scared. Praying for redemption or for his hell to be over. Just make a choice, God.

The hum reverberated through Shinyo Maru’s hull. He looked up, along with Dean and Sturgeon. He didn’t have to be a sailor to know that sound didn’t come from the ship.

The explosion peeled metal as though it were a boiled onion. The concussion knocked him from his friends. His ears rang until warm saltwater cleared his head.

The hatch opened above and as promised Little Caesar unloaded with the machine gun.

He dove under the water. Bullets thumped into the men above. Blood inked the filling compartment.

Two grenades blew. Boom-boom. His head bounced on the steel deck. The ringing returned. His hands stung.

He didn’t have time to check them or complain, as the second torpedo struck aft, lifting the ship momentarily before it crashed back into the sea. Surging water sucked him down. He kicked hard and held his breath, swam through the torpedo hole and fought his way to the surface. He coughed and spit water. It hurt to breathe, but the air never tasted so clean. He raised his hands. Blood oozed from them. He removed thumb-sized pieces of shrapnel without screaming. The saltwater stung. Hopefully it would help his wounds.

Where were Dean and Sturgeon? He looked

to the ship and spotted Sturgeon on deck tossing a petrified Dean into the water. Sturgeon jumped after him and dragged Dean, kicking and splashing.

He waved and they met up.

“We need to follow them.” Sturgeon pointed at others swimming toward shore.

It looked a long way off.

He saw three Jap sailors treading water. “Follow me.”

They swam over and held the terrified sailors underwater until they gave up their life vests.

“Can we swim that far?” he said.

Dean looked toward the burning ship. “Better than going back there.”

The ocean tasted like blood. He and his friends swam past a guy holding his belly.

“Help me.” The guy’s eyes rolled in his head and he bobbed to the surface, as his guts leaked from the gash that had nearly cut him in two.

He didn’t care how far, one mile or ten, he just swam, Dean and Sturgeon behind him. The coral marked the shoreline, but it also sliced his hands and feet but he’d come too far to stop now.

“Keep climbing,” he said as he navigated the coral cliff. With his remaining strength he hauled himself over the last rock and tumbled into tall grass.

Dean and Sturgeon collapsed next to him. Their breathing grew slower. He hoped it wasn’t for the wrong reason.

An explosion woke him. How long had he drifted off?  He crawled to his hands and knees.

“Take my arm,” Sturgeon said.

He extended an elbow for Dean and the three of them stood.

He tasted free air for the first time in two and a half years. Shouldn’t he feel happy?

Shinyo Maru smoldered and then disappeared under hissing foam. A final rest for so many who almost made it.

“How many?” Baker said.

He was sitting on a warm concrete bench. He couldn’t remember getting here. The Sergeant Major had helped him. He smelled flowers. Didn’t matter what kind. A sweet blessing compared to his memories. Thousands of showers hadn’t washed away the stench of death. It finally faded with time. Lots of time.

“Eight-two out of seven hundred and fifty men.”

Baker stared at him. Eyes watery. Fighting for control.

“So how about my question.”

“You won’t like the answer,” Baker said.

“Just tell me.”

“It wasn’t your time.”

“That’s it?”

“There’s more,” Baker said. “You lived to help your friends. Same as that day you hooked arms. Same as you’re helping me.”

“How am I doing that?”

“By reminding this Marine that why you fought is the same reason I fought. It’s the reason I came here today.”

He noticed the titanium rod that replaced Baker’s leg.

“Firefight in Afghanistan.” Baker grinned. “I stole it from Lieutenant Dan.”

“I saw Forest Gump. Wouldn’t surprise me, Marine. You guys are dangerous.”

“Want to go see our grandson.”

“But I’m not–”

Baker stood and extended an arm. “You are now.”

He saluted Sergeant Major Philip Baker, Unites States Marine Corps. Baker returned the salute.

“Mind if I use your arm again, Marine?”

“Anytime you want, Staff Sergeant. Anytime you want.”

 

Bill Dougherty is an aspiring novelist and screenwriter. He has been recognized in writing contests such as the Vision Fest Film Festival Screenwriting Contest (2005), the Florida Writer’s Association Lighthouse Book Awards (2007), and the Jesse Stuart Prize for Young Adult Fiction (2012). He lives with his wife, Leila, in Jacksonville, Florida, with their two dogs, Sasha and Ladybug.

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