BY: G. W. KENNEDY
Chicago, 1942. Can a reclusive and cynical factory janitor prevent the IRA from changing history?
With US participation in World War II getting underway, John Mackenzie Simmons III “Mack” is in a difficult position. His draft status is 4F. He has lost an eye in a drunk-driving accident two years earlier, transforming him into a self-proclaimed “one-eyed freak.” The driver was Mack’s best friend, Thomas Kilkenny. After the accident, Tommy suddenly joins the US Army Air Corps, becoming a skilled pilot of a B-17 bomber. When Tommy dies in combat, Mack’s wealthy and powerful father wants to make Tommy the war’s first American hero to help promote the war. But first, they have to know if Tommy’s father, a corrupt Chicago alderman, is involved in criminal activities hampering the war effort and won’t stand up to scrutiny. Mack’s father orders him to find out. But as Mack digs for the truth, he uncovers much more than Mafia connections, stumbling upon an IRA plot that could change the course of the war.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In A Necessary Hero by G. W Kennedy, Mack Simmons’s best friend Tommy enlists in the US Army Air Corps in 1942, after causing an accident that leaves Mack 4F. When Tommy later dies in combat, Mack’s powerful father plans to use Tommy to promote the war effort, making him the first American hero of World War II. Mack is given the job of not only notifying Tommy’s family of his death, but also investigating Tommy’s father, a Chicago alderman, to be sure he doesn’t have any connections with organized crime that could backfire on their plan to use Tommy to promote the war. But what Mack finds is far serious more than any underworld connections.
Well written, intense, fast paced, and full of surprises, this book is one that will have you turning pages as fast as you can from beginning to end.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: A Necessary Hero by GW Kennedy is the story of two young Americans in 1942. Mack and Tommy are best friends. One night when Tommy is driving, he has an accident and Mack loses an eye, making him 4F. Riddled with guilt, Tommy enlists, flying B-17s for the army. When Tommy’s plane goes down, he manages to save his crew, but Tommy dies. Mack’s father, a powerful and wealthy man, decides that Americans need a hero to help them get behind the war, and Tommy is it. But there is just one problem. Tommy’s father is rumored to have organized crime connections, and they don’t know if he will stand up to scrutiny if they go through with their plan for Tommy. So Mack is given the job of finding out. While he digs for the dirt on Tommy’s father, Mack uncovers an IRA plot that could change the course of the war, as well as end Mack’s life.
Intense, poignant, and compelling, A Necessary Hero combines intrigue, suspense, and action to create a story that will grab you by the throat and hold you all the way through.
Flyboy and Hermit
“Perhaps it is good for us to have to face disaster, because we have been so optimistic and almost arrogant in our expectation of constant success. Now we shall have to find the courage to meet defeat and fight right on to victory. That means a steadiness of purpose and of will, which is not one of our strong points.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt, February 1942
“My father is a horse’s ass.”
It was an insult, Mack thought, his father would appreciate if Mack ever actually called him that. It was a slur his father had used himself a thousand times. Some neighbor or legal client or fellow Yale Club member he’d run afoul of “is more than an insufferable ninny—he’s a horse’s ass!” They’re the fightin’ words of Winnetka, an all-purpose insult within the North Shore set.
During one of Mack’s rare voluntary visits home to see how his mother was doing, his father’s usage went: “Mack, no one could possibly think worse of you for being Four F. No one who counts anyway. Any man who would place you among those slackers who perforate their own eardrums or claim to be perverts to get out of the draft, why he’s just the scum of the earth. Nothing but a horse’s ass!”
Then, the conversation ran its usual course, whether the visit was voluntary or a command performance. His father—John Mackenzie Simmons II (never “Junior,” familiarly “Sim”)—slid into the subject of other 4Fs in the Simmons family’s social circle who were serving their country in honorable positions that didn’t directly involve the armed forces.
Mack (technically John Mackenzie Simmons III) said one more time that he “didn’t want a phony paper-pusher’s job as Assistant to the Assistant Secretary in the War Department Office of Bayonets and Rubbish Control.”
Then good old Dad ended the father-son talk by calling him a horse’s ass for working at such a “demeaning” job, by which Mack knew he meant embarrassing to his father professionally. For Mack, the position as a night janitor at the Steckel Avenue Plant, one of America’s largest producers of engines for B-17 Flying Fortresses, unquestionably contributed to the war effort at least as much as any Assistant Secretary. But, unable to think of anything better to say or do, he stormed out of the family’s Winnetka manse, nearly bowling over Mr. Dineen, the family’s elderly butler.
Navigating his rusty Model A from the North Shore to the West Side of Chicago, Mack saw the fateful “4F” floating like a balloon in front of him. 4F: “physically, psychologically, or morally unfit for military duty.” It was the combo of number and letter no man wanted to own up to, far down the ladder from 1A, where all real men wanted to be, at least until they got to boot camp, not to mention getting within range of a gun-toting Nip or Kraut.
Mack’s cross-every-T, dot-every-I father liked to point out that they were at war with Mussolini and the Italian Fascists too. “They’re the descendants of Imperial Rome, a tough bunch,” he said with a sage nod. But, Mack thought but didn’t say, the Eye-talians haven’t rolled their tanks halfway across Russia or bombed the living daylights out of our fleet at Pearl Harbor.
As the winter of ’42 wore on and the number of strapping, seemingly 1A-worthy gents usually found on the streets of Chicago began dwindling, Mack found himself getting the stink-eye more and more often. Uncle Sam was pulling in the youth of America, patriotic volunteers and reluctant draftees alike—another way of saying healthy young men, some large percentage of whom were going to be turned into armless or legless or eyeless veterans of the newly-minted war.
After locating a parking spot on Austin Boulevard a block from Mrs. McLady’s rooming house, Mack dodged past a half dozen pedestrians, stone-faced older guys in worn Sunday suits and a young mother or older sister herding a pair of prancing little girls, twins in matching pink frocks and wool coats. Everyone ignored him.
Mack wanted to buttonhole the ones secretly thinking, “Why the hell aren’t you in the army when they’ve got my son—my boyfriend—my husband, dad, or brother?”
He wanted to tell them, “I’m not a shirker or a draft dodger. I am large and strong enough to have played football at the University of Chicago before the hyper-intellectuals took over and the Maroons still had a team.”
There was, Mack thought, more to him, and less, than met the eye of a man or woman on the street. The “more” part was the scrollwork of scars forming a relief map of some fantastic island across his back and ass. As for the lesser component, he had just one of something, an item generally viewed as critical, instead of two. Not kidneys, kneecaps, earlobes, nostrils, buttocks, elbows, or balls, not even little-piggy-went-to-market toes. You had to look for a while into Mack’s unscarred face, then move your own head a little so that his eye would follow—the one he was born with, a singular noun—not the glass eye, officially his ocular prosthesis. Even those in the know had to look carefully because it was a masterpiece of ocular prosthetic art, the iris and pupil painstakingly sized and matched to the pale blue and clear white of the functioning peeper. Surprisingly, both Mack and his father agreed the prosthesis was far superior to a pirate’s eye patch. Who knew what wound lurked underneath?
So, in the country of the blind, Mack might be king, but he wasn’t welcome in the army of the two-eyed. Something about lacking the depth perception required to aim a rifle at the vital organs of his fellow man, not to mention the tendency of the artificial orb to pop out of its socket under duress.
In addition to conferring 4F status, Mack came to understand that having one real eye and one well-crafted fake made him a subtle variety of freak, but a freak nonetheless. People initially saw what they expected, a run-of-the-mill American male. Then came the shock of recognition—Jesus Christ, this guy’s got only one eye!—ringing down the curtain of separation, of otherness. It’s what made working the graveyard shift so appealing. It wasn’t exactly living in a cave, but the eleven p.m. to seven a.m. shift was as close as you could get to a hermit’s existence in wartime America, working in the dead of night, then going to ground in the daytime, when people saw more clearly.
Of course, as Mack’s speculations on the subject always ended, if the Buick’s gas tank hadn’t been down past Empty when Tommy rolled the car, none of this would be any problem at all. He and Tommy would both be blackened corpses like the ambushed dead in the oily waters of Pearl Harbor. But nobody except history majors and Hawaiians had heard of Pearl Harbor when Thomas Kilkenny rolled his father’s Buick Limited, running on fumes, two days before Christmas 1939.
© 2018 by G. W. Kennedy