Thursday, June 5, 2014

My Grandfather, a WWII Hero and D-Day Pilot, Inspired Historical Novel

In honor of the 70th Anniversary of D-Day, June 6th, 1944, I am updating an article that I wrote about my grandfather, a WWII veteran pilot of the U.S. Army. I am remembering what he helped do for our country during the Normandy invasion.

In April of 2013, my grandfather turned 95. My dad and I took a day off and traveled to West Texas to celebrate and honor another year. The man I grew up calling “Nandaddy” -- because we called my grandmother “Nana” -- is still a personal hero of mine. In his younger days, he stood six-two and was built strong and tough, like John Wayne. My grandfather, who passed away peacefully in February 2014, had a husky laugh, chewed tobacco and wore cowboy hats and boots. He had an incredible impact on my life and my writing. In my novel Shadows in the Mist, my main character, Colonel Jack Chambers, was modeled after my grandfather, Captain Henry “Dawson” Moreland. My grandfather was a war hero who never talked about the war. When I was a kid visiting my grandparents, I went down to the cellar and found an old Army trunk that was locked and gathering dust. I asked my grandfather what was inside. He said photos and mementos he had brought back from the war, but he wouldn’t open it. When I asked why, his eyes clouded over and he said the memories of what he experienced over in Europe were just too painful. He kept that war locked up inside him and that made me curious. What had my grandfather experienced during WWII? What secrets was he keeping?

 Shadows in the Mist opens with a few scenes in present day, when Colonel Jack Chambers is visited by his grandson, Sean. Like me, Sean is curious to know his grandfather’s secrets. We discover that Colonel Chambers wrote everything he experienced in the war in a diary and Sean reads it, which flashes the story back to Jack Chambers’s war days when he was a platoon leader and battled a supernatural horror created by the Nazis. The Occult Nazi element is something I added based on true historical events, rather than my grandfather’s real experiences. It was because of Nandaddy’s inspiration that I dedicated Shadows in the Mist to him. When the book first came out, I traveled to his home town and we did a book signing together. It was then that he finally opened up and shared war stories with the family.

During the D-Day Invasion, Captain Dawson Moreland had been a pilot who flew C-47s that carried paratroopers of the 101st Airborne, 82nd Airborne (the famous EZ Company featured in Band of Brothers), as well as the infamous Dirty Dozen. He was part of the Market Garden mission and even delivered gasoline to General Patton's 2nd Armored Division. Here are a couple photos my grandfather brought back:

Above Captain Moreland is standing far right.
Below he is standing in the center.

In 2008, reality began to mimic fiction. Like my character Colonel Jack Chambers, a relic from my grandfather’s past came to surface. From D-Day through the Battle of the Bulge, Captain Dawson Moreland flew a famous C-47 called “the Snafu Special”. After the war, the plane somehow got lost and disappeared for several decades. The Snafu Special was found a few years ago in Bosnia, rotting away in an airfield.

Some French historians had the plane shipped to the Merville battery museum in Normandy, France, where it has been refurbished and is now on display. Back in 2008, my grandfather, along with me and my family, were invited to Normandy for the grand ceremony where they pulled the cover off the plane.

The local people treated my grandfather as a hero, thanking him for helping liberate Normandy from the Germans who occupied France at the time. For anyone interested, you can watch a 7-minute video clip of the ceremony on YouTube.

Anyone going over to Normandy can visit the "Snafu Special" at the Merville battery museum.


This article is posted in loving memory of Captain Henry Dawson Moreland. 


Brian Moreland is the author of supernatural horror thrillers: Dead of Winter, Shadows in the Mist, The Girl from the Blood Coven, The Witching House, The Vagrants, and The Devil’s Woods

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