Meet the Men of “War Sonnets”, Part One

United State Army—112th RCT

As a writer, it’s important to know everything you can about each of your characters. Most of what you learn will never make it to your story, but digging deep into their personalities may reveal things you hadn’t thought of. Suddenly, that person is more than a name. They feel real, like a life-long pen pal you’ve never met, yet know so much about.

When I started writing War Sonnets, I wanted a diverse cast of characters. They include a northern farmer, a Polish immigrant, a Boston Irishman, a second-generation Italian, a Japanese-American, a Native American, a southern “good ‘ole boy,” a dirt-poor sharecropper, and a Midwestern cowboy. Their backgrounds were diverse: rural and urban, north and south, poor and not-so-poor, Catholic, Protestant, none-of-the-above.

Part one of this series looks at protagonist Leo Baldwin and his combat squad, members of the 112th Regimental Combat Team. The pictures below are gathered from the Internet, and fit the image I have of each soldier.

Let’s meet them, one-by-one:

Top row (l-r): Baldwin, Dooley, Ryan, Richards, Russo. Bottom row (l-r): Webster, Jock, Abe, Grayson)

Staff Sergeant Leal “Leo” Baldwin, squad leader. Age 23, brown hair, brown eyes, medium build. The main character of War Sonnets, Leo was born on a farm in central New York State that has been in his family for generations. He loves the land, but hates farming and he is determined to find a better life. Graduating from high school at the age of fifteen, he was the valedictorian of his class. He enjoys playing baseball, word play, and writing. Leo carries a Native American relic he discovered in a wheat field, shaped and etched to resemble a hawk. He considers it his good luck charm.

Sergeant Ronnie Lee Nelson, age 25. Blond hair, brown eyes, muscular build. Known as “Dooley“, he is Leo’s assistant and the squad’s grenadier. He was born in Dulac, Louisiana, and worked as a warehouseman in a coal black plant when Uncle Sam came calling. The son of a racist sharecropper, Dooley is a proud member of the KKK and has the tattoo to prove it.

PFC Calvin Richards, rifleman/scout, was born in Mitchell, South Dakota. He has red hair and green eyes, and a slender body. At eighteen years old, he is the youngest member of the squad. He left home at the age of sixteen and hired on as a rodeo cowboy. Cal is haunted by the death of his mother in a car accident where he was driving.

Lieutenant Tommy Ryan is Leo’s platoon leader. Thirty-two years old with dark hair, Ryan has steely blue eyes that intimidate even the bravest soldiers. He is an enlisted man, a talented leader, and a role model for Leo. The grandson of Irish immigrants, he grew up in Boston, is married with three young daughters. He is fluent in Spanish and French. He carries a sketchbook everywhere, and loves to play chess.

Corporal Giuseppi “Joe” Russo, senior rifleman. Age 28, brown hair and eyes, stocky build. A second-generation Italian-American, he hails from Chicago where he works in his family’s restaurant. He loves the Chicago White Sox; when he was a child he wanted to be a pitcher like his idol, Red Faber. He and Jock are good buddies, and Russo is a calming influence for Jock’s hot temper.

Corporal Jakob “Jock” Filipowski, BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) man. Twenty-six years old, he is five-feet, six inches tall with blond hair and brown eyes. Jock was born in Warsaw, Poland and immigrated with his family to Detroit when he was eleven years old. He has a four inch scar across his left cheek from being attacked by a Polish street gang when he was eight. Back home in Detroit, he was an auto worker. He has a wife and two children, and carries a hair-weaving from them as a reminder of why he fights.

PFC Johnny Webster, rifleman. Webster is nineteen, the son of a sharecropper, from Peahatchie, Mississippi. His family lives in a cramped, one-room shack with no electricity or running water. Johnny is skinny—almost scrawny at five-foot six and one-hundred thirty pounds. Webster isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer but what he lacks in smarts, he makes up for in determination. He has a sixth sense when it comes to danger, and notices things other people tend to miss.

Corporal Haruki “Harry” Abe (pronounced Ah-bay), AR/Assistant Gunner and Interpreter. Abe is a third-generation Japanese-American. He lives in Los Angeles and works in his family’s grocery store. His small stature is deceiving: he has a black belt in Judo and takes crap from no one. Abe is intelligent, courageous, and believes in honor and obedience. He resents the government for imprisoning his family at a detainment camp, and is determined to prove he is just as American as everyone else.

Corporal Woody Grayson, rifleman/scout. Twenty years old, Corporal Grayson is a Native American of the Muscokee Tribe. In his helmet, he carries a sacred eagle feather given to him by the tribal shaman for protection. Grayson is slender, with the grace and agility of an athlete. He has a deep sense of community and ancestral traditions. Grayson and Abe share a foxhole and are often paired on reconnaissance missions. Like Abe he is torn between his loyalty to his fellow soldiers and his innate resentment and distrust of the white man.

Stay tuned for the next installment when we’ll meet the soldiers from the Japanese Imperial Army.

One thought on “Meet the Men of “War Sonnets”, Part One

  1. I’m not usually interested in reading historical or realistic fiction, but recently reading Michael Martinez’s “MJ-12” series put me in the mood for war stories and now that I’ve read these compelling character bios, I am very interested in reading “War Sonnets”. Also, it really highlights what you meant in your recent post about needing a sensitivity reader for stories like this. I knew this one would be about Japanese people, but I had no idea how diverse your cast of Americans is!


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