One of my favorite aspects of writing historical fiction is weaving real people and stories into my books. If you want to learn how closely my novels resemble actual events, read on! If you’re a WWII history lover who hasn’t read my books, just know that there will be some spoilers for events in the novels.

The History Behind Things We Didn't Say

Fact: Almost everything about the Military Intelligence Service’s Japanese Language school is accurate. Peter Ito is fictional, but the dynamics between Hawaiian and Californian students, the increased pressure to turn out translators quickly, and even students studying in the privy late at night are all taken directly from my research. The Densho Encylopedia has a great summary for anyone wanting to learn more, with plenty of links to other resources.

Some of the students at the MIS language school pausing work to pose for a photo. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society Collections

Fiction: Ironside Lake is only a real place in my imagination, though the events that took place there are based on many real experiences in small towns hosting POW camps in Minnesota. Thawing Day is also a tradition that I invented for the story, inspired by my tendency to lose gloves in snow drifts.

Fact: Minnesotans did protest POWs getting highly-rationed ham at Easter, causing a local newspaper to write a story listing the POWs’ diets and forcing them to change the amount of meat offered to prisoners. Many other small details about Americans’ negative reaction toward POWs in the novel were borrowed from real life. Be sure to visit the Algona POW Camp Museum in Algona, Iowa to see more artifacts, stories, and exhibits about daily life in the Midwest camps. You can even read letters from POWs like the ones Jo censored!

German POWs in their barracks. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society Collections

Fiction: While several larger POW branches had newspapers written by POWs and distributed among the camp residents and staff, “The POW Potato Brigade” column was invented for the novel, and as far as I’m aware, there was no real-world equivalent.

Fact and Fiction: Some of the details of the escape near the end of the novel was based on a notorious escape attempt in northern Minnesota, where two POWs evaded capture for almost a full week. Dieter in particular seemed to have a similar grasp of American geography as these men, who planned to raft down the Mississippi River undetected until they reached Mexico. You can read more about the twists and turns in this Minnesota History article.

Historical People in Things We Didn't Say

John Aiso: Later a lawyer and judge, the head of the MIS language school brilliantly managed a large staff and developed the curriculum for thousands of linguists during WWII. The quote that Peter shares with Jo about blossoming like cherry trees is also something he actually said. I was so inspired in my research by his dedication that I knew I had to include him in the novel. Learn more about his life and accomplishments here.

John Aiso, head of the language school. Photo courtesy of Japanese American Archival Collection, California State University

Dr. Howard Hong: This former philosophy professor really did visit all of the Minnesota camps on behalf of YMCA War Prisoners’ Aid, bringing books, musical instruments, and other leisure-time aids, as well as helping camps develop programs and classes to keep the men productively occupied until the war’s end. Many POWs credit him with their positive experience in Minnesota camps.

Staff Sergeant Dye Ogata: The Japanese-American veteran hero who visits Peter’s men is real, and so is the story of how he got his Purple Heart. I wanted to include as much of these men’s heroism as I could in the novel.

Wondering about a detail of Things We Didn't Say I didn’t mention here? Feel free to send me an email via my Contact page, and I’ll let you know what’s fact and fiction.

The History Behind The Lines Between Us

Fact: Conscientious objectors worked as smokejumpers and fire lookouts during the war at camps like the one in the book. The harassment they faced was well-documented, though not nearly as severe as WWI conscientious objectors, who went to prison for their beliefs. As mentioned in the novel, COs also led protests of segregation, the internment of Japanese Americans, and terrible conditions in asylums for the mentally ill. They worked for little pay as laborers on federal worksites, caretakers at hospitals, and even test subjects in scientific experiments. The National WWII Museum provides a helpful overview of the different ways they served.

Fiction: Flintlock Mountain is a fictional location, a decision I made because several of the events and all of the characters working there are fictional. Its culture and layout were based on actual smokejumper bases, including the fact that many of the projects that COs worked on were former CCC camps built during the Great Depression.

Fact: The Triple Nickles and the story of their founding is true, though there are many other fascinating details I wasn’t able to include in the book. To learn more about these heroes, visit this website dedicated to preserving their story, or read Courage Has No Color by Tanya Lee Stone.

Some of the men of the Triple Nickles on duty. Photos courtesy of the USDA Forest Service

Fiction: As far as we know, none of the Triple Nickle officers were aware of the details about their Pacific Northwest special assignment until they took a train to Oregon in May of 1945. An officer like Lieutenant Leland, therefore, wouldn’t have been present at meetings or inspections prior to that point, but I included him because I knew the novel wouldn’t extend into the spring, and I wanted readers to hear the Triple Nickles' story.

Fact and Fiction: The incendiary bombs revealed in the ending of the novel were very real, as was the U.S. government’s censorship of their existence. The actual tragedy, though, was that one of those bombs killed a woman and five children who went over to investigate it. The cover-up of this event and the subsequent outcry caused the army to release information about the bombs on a local level to prevent future deaths, as well as deploy the Triple Nickles to fight fires and respond to bomb threats. However, Japan didn’t send a second wave of bombs over the Pacific, thinking the strategy had failed, so there were few incidents of bomb-related fires in the spring of 1945.

The balloon bomb and a closeup of the incendiary device. Note the scale of the balloon compared to the relatively small sandbags and explosives attached at the base. Photos courtesy of the Japanese World War II Balloon Bombs Collection, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.

Fact: Captain Dora Petmencky was the Women’s Army Corps commanding officer at Fort Lawton, and she known for being stern and perhaps a bit too restrictive, at least according to Clarice Fortgang, whose memoirs helped me portray details about the Seattle WACs and their hotel accommodations accurately. (Clarice gets a small cameo role as well as the social planner of the Valentine’s Day variety show.) As in the novel, the Fort Lawton WACs were at first prevented from working in the fort’s garage until a protest—and then their excellent auto repair work—allowed them their hard-earned place.

WACs in the Transportation Corps in Seattle repairing an Army Jeep. Photo courtesy of MOHAI, Seattle Port of Embarkation Collection

Wondering about a detail of The Lines Between Us I didn’t mention here? Feel free to send me an email via my Contact page, and I’ll let you know what’s fact and fiction.

Amy Lynn Green

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