Friday, June 29, 2007

Herb Alf and Petals of Fire

Geri Morris, Herb Alf, and Rob Morris in Roseburg, Oregon, c. 2003. Geri and Herb are holding some of Herb's original notes he took as a POW in a German prison camp. These notes formed the nucleus of his World War Two novel Petals of Fire. He wrote on both sides of sheets of toilet paper, and hid the work in a secret compartment in his wallet. Herb was one of the only survivors on his B-17 Flying Fortress after it took a direct hit and exploded. He then survived prison camp hardships and a forced march across Germany in 1945.

Today's recommended book is 100th Bomb Group pilot and POW Herbert Alf's Petals of Fire. Herb conceived and wrote this book over a fifty-year span. He began it as a prisoner of war in Germany, writing on BOTH sides of sheets of toilet paper, which he stored in a 'secret compartment' in a dime store wallet. The Germans never found it. In 1999, Petals of Fire was published in a limited quantity of 2,000 books. It is almost impossible to find a copy anymore, but anyone wishing to read it, get in touch with me about possibly borrowing mine. It is a historical novel in which Herb tried to cover all aspects of strategic aerial bombing.

I had the good fortune to get to know Herb quite well while writing my own book. We had several very enjoyable days together at his home in Roseberg, Oregon with Herb and his wife Sylvia.

Herb passed away a few years ago and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. He was an artist, a sculptor, an educator and one of the finest men I've ever met. His book is must reading for any air war historian or 100th Bomb Group member, especially anyone interested in the POW experience.

One of the only known photos of Herb as a pilot, taken when he was in flight training Stateside. Enlarged and edited for clarity and color by R. Morris


Richard Havers said...

As I sit here writing this on my Mac, or it could have been my laptop, or one over fifty moleskin notebooks, or a pad, I marvel at how Herb started his novel - BOTH sides of pieces of toilet paper!!

All I can say is thank God they hadn't invented that soft mushy stuff we use today!

Seriously it's a story like this that inspires me to write better.

r morris said...

Of all the guys I met, Herb was one of the biggest influences. He became a psycologist (never could spell that word) after the war, and studied the factors that led some people to succeed while others of greater or similar intellect failed. He found what he called 'the factor of persistence'. Often it takes multiple failures to achieve success; however, only the persistent find this out. I took this to heart and live by it.

Herb never gave up, and the man could do anything. It took him fifty years to finish his novel. I have a chapter about him in Untold Valor. Had he lived, Herb was going to help me edit my book. It would have been a good deal better had he done so, for he was meticulous.

And the toilet paper he wrote on was similar to today's. It was very thin. I don't know how he was able to do it.

Richard Havers said...

The factor of persistence is what I live be. It's part of the same set of ideas that includes, the harder I work the luckier I get!

I just sent that second paragraph to a songwriter friend of mine who I am working with....we like that idea a lot!

r morris said...

Which section caught your eye? The "multiple failures to achieve success...." or the paragraph about Herb that follows?

Richard Havers said...

Duh! I'm having a very trying day trying to make my new cell phone work....I think it's tipped me over the was the first para!

scott adam ALF said...

Each of his 2000 books were signed and inscribed with a message. His book was suppose to be a limited edition, not reproduced for capitalistic pursuits for others to gain monetary prowess over his personal Trust. I am curious how Alibris can justify "new" copies being for sale. I can acknowledge the needs of the Wounded Warrior Project, but know of no agreement regarding "New" book sales.

Budman52 said...

My name is Randall "Bud" Adams.
I had the pleasure and honor to design the Jacket cover and illustrations for Herbs Book, "Pedals of Fire". I spent many hours with Herb and his gracious wife taking his suggestions and turning them into the final Jacket. I also had the privilege of being one of the first to proofread his story before publication.
I moved away a while later and was saddened to hear of his passing. His story will live with me for as long as I live, and my memories of my time with him well never fade.
I'm hoping his story will make it to the " Big Screen ".
It certainly deserves it.
Randall " Bud " Adams