Honor and Innocence: Against the Tides of War, a historical romance novel by Glen Hierlmeier, was released March 2014. This book takes the reader through the devastation left by World War II across the European and Asian continents following its main character Hank Fischer, who was drafted to the American Army in 1945 shortly after his high school graduation.
During his service, Hank befriends a German prisoner-of-war, Max, who tells Hank of his twin sister, Roberta, also in captivity. An unlikely romance buds between her and Hank, leaving Hank conflicted between his allegiance to the American Army and his love for Roberta. Hank decides to break out Max and Roberta, and together they make a desperate flight through war-torn Germany where they witness first-hand the destruction post-war Europe has endured. Leaving Max behind in Switzerland, they make their way to the port city of Trieste, where they board a ship and depart to the seas, dealing with pirates, facing adversity, making new friends, and desperately seeking a safe refuge in a place where their love can flourish.
Follow Hank and Roberta on their intense and captivating journey from country to country as they seek refuge. Read as they make their way through bombed-out cities, giving a rare glimpse into the tragic consequences of war, as they remain together bound by love.
Targeted Age Group:: 18+
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
In researching my first book, We Had to Live: We Had No Choice, I extensively interviewed my oldest brother, now deceased, about his family experiences, particularly his experiences as a young boy and teenager during the Depression and World War 2. During his senior year in high school, in 1945, he was drafted into the Army, and when the war soon ended, he was assigned to escort German prisoners of war back to Germany. His story caught my attention because I didn’t know about the many German and Italian prisoner of war camps in the U.S., though my own brother was involved with one, and there were three within a mile of my hometown in Wisconsin. One of the stories he related to me stuck in my mind because it was so traumatic, and I thought it would be a great passage in a future book.
The conditions people endured after the war has not been a popular subject, largely ignored in history textbooks, yet for many, many, hardship lingered on for years. The horrors of war scar people for generations, and that caught my attention as a former Air Force officer who served during the long Viet Nam War, though never in Viet Nam. I saw my book, Honor & Innocence: Against the Tides of War, as an opportunity to focus attention on the terrible conditions people endured after the wars, but do it in a compelling story with characters my readers either love or hate, but always want to know more about.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
The idea for the main character, Hank, comes from my oldest brother who himself was drafted just before WW2 ended and served in Europe as part of the Occupation Forces. Our family are third generation Germans from Bavaria, which is the home ground of the characters, Max and Roberta. The theme that common people, particularly those with similar backgrounds, can get along and even love one another in a world dominated by the hubris of powerful men and governments, is central to the book, as well as the horror of war caste upon the common citizenry.
There was little rest for Hank again that night. His heart and his mind were being pulled in different directions. He had made commitments to Max and Oliver, then to Captain Stein, and now to Roberta. He had always been trusted by everyone, a pillar of integrity. Now, he would surely destroy that reputation. As he tossed and turned, and scolded himself for getting himself into such a quandary, his thoughts kept going back to Roberta, warm thoughts full of wonder and excitement. But, as the night progressed, doubts began to creep into his head.
Hank couldn’t deny how he felt; he felt fantastic, incredible. He had met the girl of his dreams—love at first sight. He couldn’t wait to see her again. She was everything he had always imagined she would be, everything he hoped for in a woman. Yet, he began to wonder, is this real? Could it be possible for two people to be in love when they’ve only known each other for two days? Was he being foolish? Had the events of the past five months and his absence from the comforts of home made him vulnerable in a dangerous way? A frightful pang of fear shot through his gut as he thought: Is she just using me? Does she see me as her way out of confinement? Am I being fooled by her? Maybe she doesn’t care about me at all; she only needs me to get what she really wants. Why should I trust her? I don’t really know her. Oh, what a fool I must be to fall for the first beautiful woman who shows an interest in me, who caresses me. Am I that vulnerable? Am I that foolish?
Thoughts of Roberta dazzled and confused him; nothing in his young life had ever left him so unsure of himself. No amount of concentration overcame the cascade of emotions flooding his chest. He tossed and turned long into the night, soaked his pillow through with his sweat, though he wasn’t warm, and felt his pulse exploding his temples; alternating between visions of pure, romantic love and sheer foolishness. The pull on his heart skidded back and forth like a tug of war. That is…until he recalled his mother’s words, spoken on his eighteenth birthday, just after a high school sweetheart informed him that another man had won her heart.
Hank, you are such a precious son. I adore you. I am sad when you are sad, but you must know this pain you feel will pass. Sometimes love is fleeting, it may disappear as quickly as it appears. You have your whole life ahead of you. I know you will meet the woman who will love you completely, and for your lifetime. I have no doubt. Love between a man and a woman cannot be easily defined; love comes in many forms and is never the same for everyone. Almost always love charges into your life like a cosmic experience, even magical, it is so difficult to predict or understand. Sometimes that special feeling in your heart really is true love—sometimes not. When love comes suddenly, we can be swept off our feet. It’s a dazzling experience that confuses us. That’s often called love at first sight, but it’s never really love at first sight. If it happens to you, don’t take it for granted, it’s very special and you won’t want to lose it. It’s one of the best feelings you will ever have, and I believe the best beginning for true love.
Don’t be deceived, true love has to be built; it takes a lot of hard work and may take a very long time. When two people stop working on their love, it fades, no matter if it’s the first month, the first year, the tenth or the twenty-fifth. There will always be difficulties and complications, that’s how life is, not just marriage. Use those difficulties to work on making your marriage stronger. Don’t expect not to have challenges, welcome them and be ready to take them on together. Everything really worthwhile in your life will require hard work. Your marriage is the one very most worthwhile jewel you will ever have.
Laying silently in the darkness, eyes wide open, thinking warm thoughts of his mother, a smile came across his face. Of course, he thought, mother is right. I have to work on it. Tomorrow I’ll have to find out if Roberta truly feels the same way about me. Sleep finally came.
He should have been exhausted the next morning, with little sleep and tormented the whole night through with all his mixed emotions, but his adrenalin had taken over. Hank needed to get things resolved, and though he wasn’t sure how to do that, he needed to attack his demons head on. By the time he met with Oliver and Max in the evening he wanted to have his life back on track. Since he was drafted there had not been a dull day in Hank’s life. He never knew quite what to expect, and that day would be no different. It would begin with his report to Captain Stein.
Hank was surprised to see the Captain waiting for him. Stein motioned Hank to his office as soon as Hank appeared in the doorway. Hank’s curiosity was aroused.
“Hank, we have to release everyone except the SS Officers. The staff and family are being released as soon as possible. We’ll have 30 days to hold the officers and unless we can get enough evidence they participated in war crimes we’ll have to release them too! Something about the Geneva Convention says we can’t hold them unless we have sufficient evidence to take them to trial. It’s foolish as far as I’m concerned. What kind of fair trial did the millions of dead Jews get?”
Hank was stunned again. His first emotion was that he was losing Roberta, but his first thought was that might be best. He had to set his feelings aside and listen to Stein without revealing his feelings.
“I’m sorry, sir. I know how important this is to you. It really would be a shame if guilty men went free.”
“Ya, well, there’s nothing we can do about it but work our butts off to get the evidence we need to hold the bastards. That’s our job, and by God, we’re going to make sure every last one of them hangs for what they’ve done. Did you get anything out of the girl?”
“I thought I was really close…I mean…I think she was beginning to trust me. I needed more time; maybe a few more days, but I’m not sure she knew anything.”
“Come on, Corporal, of course she knows things. I’ll bet she knows plenty. We’re losing a good opportunity by letting them all go. It makes our job harder.”
“What will we do now?”
“We’ll get busy interrogating the officers. The British have been at it for weeks. They have files on all of them. The Russians are sending men to help too, and we’re getting some young Army lawyers by next week. Today, you and I are going out there to go through files. We’ll make a list of the ones that look like they were in charge, in some position of leadership, the higher the better, then we’ll start meeting with them. I want to get the top guys.”
Hank didn’t know what to think. His emotions all melted together in a jumble of confusion. All he could do was follow orders for the moment, until he could sort through all the feelings bombarding him.
Within a few minutes he and Stein were on their way to the compound, where they came upon a blur of activity. Those who were being released were jubilant as groups of them gathered in the streets to celebrate. There was pitched cheering, yet, others pushed against the fence separating them from officers, loved ones and former employers who they would be leaving behind. There was sadness and tears, as well as questions about what may lay ahead for each of them, the uncertainty for those who were released to communities that may not still exist, and for those who remained in custody, facing the possibility of imprisonment or death.
As Stein and Hank walked into the officer’s compound, Hank did his best to keep Stein from seeing him looking among those being released through the fence. In spite of his doubts, his heart told him he was in love and he was growing desperate about losing Roberta so soon, thinking she could be gone forever, and wishing he could know for sure if what they had begun was truly love, or whether he was just a fool. They were moving too quickly for him to see clearly. He couldn’t find her. They were up the steps and into the meeting hall, leaving behind any chance he might see her again. He was numb, unaware of anything going on around him.
“Hank, Hank, come on, get moving. Pay attention!” Stein gave him a nudge toward the stairway leading to a room above, where they spent the rest of the morning poring through files, assessing information that had been gathered by the British, looking for clues to help them decide which officers they would interrogate first. Stacks of files were set aside, awaiting the lawyer’s arrival. Hank couldn’t focus his attention; all he could think about was that he may be losing the one person who was right for him, the one he would commit his life to. Convicting German criminals wasn’t important to him at that moment.
By noon Stein was satisfied they had enough files to get started. They were loaded in the back of the truck and about to leave.
“Captain Stein, I’d like to see if I can find Roberta and make an appeal to her to give us the information you believe she has. Once she is gone, it will be lost. I think it’s worth a try.”
“If you think so, Hank. There can’t be any harm in trying. In fact, I like your attitude. Go ahead, get what you can, and jump on another truck heading back later. I’ll see you in the morning. Good luck.”
Hank felt relieved that Stein went along with the idea, but he felt a tinge of guilt for taking advantage of Stein’s trust in him.
Trucks loaded with released detainees were rolling out the gate as Hank walked over to the camp. He ran alongside each truck calling Roberta’s name but got no response. Others were still loading near a barracks building to the rear. He ran into the building asking each person he came to about Roberta until an older woman stopped him.
“Yes. Roberta was here. But she has gone.”
Hank’s world came to a sudden stop. He just stood there as people pushed past him toward the trucks. He lost her. She was gone. Maybe she didn’t love him after all. Maybe she just didn’t need him anymore. He really didn’t know what to think. He only knew this was the worst day of his life.
As he walked back toward the gate past the office where he had met with Roberta, the guard who had brought Roberta to the meetings called out to him.
“Corporal! Corporal Fischer! Come quickly. There is someone who wants to see you.”
Hank wouldn’t allow himself to believe it could be her. He hurried into the building and found the front office area empty, but the door to the room in back was ajar. He slowly opened the door and there sat Roberta. She leaped from her chair and into his arms with a scream of delight.
“Oh, Hank, Hank! I knew you would come for me. I knew it in my heart!”
“They told me you had left. I thought you were gone!”
“I couldn’t go. Where would I go without you now that I have found you? I love you, Hank, I love you! I feel like I have loved you since always, and forever.”
Her arms wrapped tightly around his neck and her lips found his. Her words washed away any doubt. He had never known such elation. He was in love. It was real. He was sure of it.
“I love you, Roberta. I love you, too!”
Glen graduated from the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, then earned a Masters of Business Administration at The University of Wisconsin at Madison. He served in the US Air Force on the Manned Orbiting Laboratory space exploration program and on the design phase of the development of the F-15 fighter aircraft. After leaving the Air Force, Glen returned to Wisconsin and became Vice President of the largest bank in his home state, First Wisconsin National Bank. In 1979, he moved on to become President and CEO of several real estate development and management companies. Glen retired in 2009 to devote full time to his grandchildren and his writing. Glen is the author of Honor and Innocence, We Had to Live: We Had No Choice…, and Thoughts From Yesterday: Moments to Remember.
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