Can you tell us what the book is about?
My husband was a co-pilot on a B-17 during World War II, and he survived 32 missions in Nazi Germany. His Flying Fortress Bomber crew adopted a cocker spaniel puppy, against regulations, for good luck, and Skipper acted as their guardian angel. He survived, and he really helped them. He did his job without even knowing it.
Can you tell us about the process of writing the book, up until when you published it?
My husband was a very good storyteller, so I copied down every word he said, but when I read it, it was not good. Without his voice and his expressions, it was just a very boring documentary. So, I started asking him questions I had never asked him before. Although I had never told him, "I've heard this story a million times," I had never asked him questions. When I finally started asking him questions, I got the revelation of a lifetime. I'd always thought he was entertaining everybody with the story of Skipper. But he really wasn't; he was trying to move on in his life in a positive way, so he could forget about the exploding planes right next to him, and the bunkmates who never came back, and the massive killings. Skipper was very cute and sweet, and he had something positive to look forward to.
So, we sat at the kitchen table, and he told me the story, and I asked him what he felt, and there were tears going down my face because for 50 years, I had never even bothered to ask him these questions. I'd never told him to stop talking about Skipper, but I never knew his real feelings.
During your talk, you said that you had a hard cover version of Skipper Goes to War, and now you have this paperback.
After my husband passed away, I went to my doctor for a physical, and he asked me what I was doing, and I told him I belonged to a writers' group. He said, "Oh good!" and he stood up really fast, got a pencil and paper, and said, "One of my friends publishes books," and he gave me her contact information. I thanked him and told him I had just written a book (Becoming Us), and didn't know what to do with it. So, I worked with her on Becoming Us, and I enjoyed the process so much, I thought I should publish a paperback version of Skipper Goes to War for all those people who wanted copies. It was also the 75th anniversary of World War II, so I thought it would be timely.
What was one thing you were surprised to learn while writing this book with your husband?
I realized that the crew was very young, and they were so brash and thought they could do so much, but they were scared stiff. They were absolutely scared stiff, and they made jokes over it, but they probably didn't sleep at night. The dog would curl up with them, and that helped.
Skipper Goes to War is such a sweet story, and a really important one.
I think it is an important one. I had a friend who said, "Oh, it was a fun book," but I don't think she got it, you know? It IS a fun book, but it also covers up the feelings of these young men. Feelings they never knew they had. You have to look for it.
If you could give any advice to someone who wants to write a book, what advice would you give?
When I left the lady who published my book, she said, "I hope that you continue writing," and I said, "I'm going to because it's a very wonderful experience." And she gave me this notecard, and it says:
"Write for joy.
Write for yourself.
Write for fun.
Write a lot.
Remember that success is not about the money.
It's about the amazement of taking what's in your wild & unpredictable imagination & sharing it with others.
It's about the joy of creating something that NEVER existed before."
Every time I speak, I tell people this.
In Eugene Hackel's own words, Skipper Goes to War: The True Story of a Pilot and his Dog is a true story about a small, soft, black and gold cocker spaniel puppy and the Flying Fortress Bomber crew who cared for him during the months leading up to the invasion of Normandy on D-Day.
Serene and Eugene Hackel wrote and self-published the hard-cover version of the book in 2003, and Serene published the paperback version on November 22, 2018. Before he passed, Eugene sent a copy of the book to Queen Elizabeth II, whose Lady-In-Waiting replied that the Queen well remembers the dark days of World War II, has great admiration for those who fought so bravely, and thought it was most kind of Mr. Hackel to send her a copy of the book.