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Life Arts    H2'ed 4/23/09

Exclusive Interview with Thomas Walsh, author of "Damnyankee"

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Books with a military theme usually leave me cold.  But Thomas Walsh’s enthusiasm for his subject is contagious.  Damnyankee  is the story of an American crew that, in 1944, was forced to ditch their aircraft off the coast of Ireland as they headed to Europe to join the war effort. Join us as Tom and I talk about his new book.

Welcome to OpEdNews, Tom. How did you come upon this story?

I first met Sean Kelly, a Sargeant in the Garda, in May, 2000.  Wynnie and I stayed at his B&B in Clifden [on the northern coast of County Galway]. Over tea, Sean and I had a spirited discussion about Ireland. Sean told me he had met few Americans with a better grasp of Ireland and its history than myself.

He then brought over a humongous three-ring binder, stuffed to the gills. It was his collection of all the information he had gathered over the years regarding the Damnyankee story.


I took it back to our room. While paging through it, I took a short break, only to come back and find Wynnie poring over it. A brief argument arose over who had what rights to read what, and we decided to stay another night in Clifden, so we could both look at it. 

Sean was pleased. I asked him how to get down to Ailleabreach, the spot on the coast where the survivors had washed ashore sixty years earlier. He offered to drive us there himself the next morning!

He also took us by the little cottage where Michael Conneely, the bachelor fisherman, had first held Trudeau [the Damnyankee pilot and senior crew member] and [bow gunner] Vigeant at bay with a pitchfork.

The cottage was tiny, but perfect, and on the wall were two framed black and white photos, one of Jim Trudeau, and the other of Eddie Vigeant. I remember feeling chills down my spine, as I looked at the pictures of two young GIs, taken so long ago, and looking so handsome.

Perhaps a year later, Wynne Ann and I were reminiscing about our trip to Ireland. I said "You know honey, for some reason I just cannot get those young sailors out of my mind. I keep seeing the monument, and wonder what really happened there, and why."

Wynnie said, "Well, why don't you write a book about it then?"

At the moment, I remember thinking how preposterous. But, fortunately or unfortunately, she had planted a seed in my mind that was not about to go away.


Tell us more about Jim Trudeau.


Trudeau is a remarkable man! He was 85 years old when I first met him, back in May of 2002, and was extremely adept at using computers and e-mail. Jim is 92 now, and may have slowed a bit physically, but believe me, he hasn't lost a dram in that brain of his!

I had the luxury of getting to know Jim via e-mail before I went down to Gainesville to meet him. I learned almost immediately that he had a razor sharp wit. We were fast friends in record time, once he realized I had no agenda, other than to write the story of the crew of the Damnyankee.


Jim could have written this book with one hand tied behind his back, and was a tremendous help. His recollection of the entire process of hammering a group of kids into a disciplined air crew was something I never could have accomplished without his guidance.

What was Trudeau's reaction to Damnyankee?  


You know, that's a good question, and I think it leads me to a good tale. My publisher initially sent me six copies of my book. I immediately sent the very first one to Trudeau. I put it in the mail, and waited...and waited...and waited. I hadn't shipped anything "media mail" before, so didn't really know what to expect.

One day I was teaching skiing, and Wynnie had the day off. On the way back, I stopped off to see my friend (and editor) Jeanne Anderson, who owns Dark Horse Books. I shared my concern that perhaps Jim had received the book and, for some reason, didn't like it. She did what she could to calm me down. 


I called Wynnie on the way home. She told me Jim Trudeau had called. She also told me - and I will never forget those words -  that Jim thought I had been "far too kind to him."


He loved the book! I just pulled my truck off to the side of the road, and cried like a baby. This was the first time I realized that it was going to be okay, and that those days of researching, writing, and reviewing were certainly worth it.

I wrote the book to honor Trudeau and all the rest of those young boys, none of whom I would ever meet. Having Wynnie tell me that Jim loved it was a bigger payoff than I had ever expected.  I called him the next day, and we had a fine chat. 


Great story. What’s next for you, Tom?


W-e-l-l, I'm having thoughts about a thriller-type whodunit, based in two parts of the world I know and love. One, of course, is Ireland, and the other would be Tuscany.  I do know I am not finished writing.


Your fans will be very glad to hear that. Thanks for talking with me, Tom, and good luck with your book.


Damnyankee will appeal to those who love WW II sagas, airplanes, or Ireland .  I enjoyed it for a completely different reason.  I consider myself a connoisseur of stories and story-telling.  And what a story this is! This slim volume comes fully loaded with action, history, and heart. Walsh's deft handling kept me fully engaged until the last page was turned.I had come to care about the crew of the Damnyankee and I was sad to let them go. 


It’s hard to imagine that this is Walsh’s first book. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next. 



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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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