In The Remains of the Corps: Volume I: Ivy & The Crossing, I introduce eighty-one new characters in significant detail.
Fifty-seven of these characters, along with the fictional Lt. Kenneth Remain, make up the fictional Fourth Platoon of the fictional 87th Company of the nonfictional 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment.
The other twenty-four characters, along with the historical figure, Major Burton W. Sibley, and the fictional Lieutenants Kenneth Remain and Lawrence Blakeslee, make up the fictional officer corps of the nonfictional 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment.
While virtually all of the Marines depicted in The Remains of the Corps: Volume I are fictional, they exemplify a generation of Americans that practiced volunteerism the likes of which we are unlikely to see again. They shouldn’t be forgotten, and in The Remains of the Corps, they are not.
The ferocious twenty-six day Battle of Belleau Wood is one of the most famous battles in United States Marine Corps history. The Marine Brigade (which included the 3rd of the 6th) that fought at and around Belleau Wood suffered more than 4,600 casualties: more than 1,000 killed and more than 3,600 gassed or wounded. To the world, one hundred years later, the Marines who fought and died there, except for a few celebrated heroes, are just statistics. But to their families, they were much more than that. They were living, breathing, sons, brothers, and husbands who were, for the most part young, and who had their whole lives in front of them when they marched off to a war that was not theirs. All suffered and sacrificed, and some made the ultimate sacrifice.
I believe readers are more likely to develop an abiding interest in characters when they are aware of important particularities about their existences, especially when they have lived full (albeit brief) and interesting lives. This is particularly true when the characters are at risk -- creating the prospect of an acute sense of loss for the reader.
Lt. Remain, in his billet as platoon commander, provides the details on the enlisted men of the Fourth Platoon of the 87th Company:
“ . . . Kenneth pulled his journal from his pocket and referred to the notes he had made on platoon organization and its members. His journal contained a treasure trove of information about the men under his command. He had had an opportunity back in Quantico to delve into the teaching of Sun Tzu — the military specialist and philosopher of ancient China, and the author of The Art of War — and one of the general’s principles he had embraced was: Treat your men as you would your own beloved sons. And they will follow you into the deepest valley. To treat them as he would a son, something he could only imagine for now, he discerned that he would need to get to know them — their ancestry, birthplace, education, pleasures, interests, experiences, upbringings, occupations and careers, likes and dislikes, fortes and failings — and, in doing so, take the measure of each. He had drawn basic information from their service records and enlistment cards and had fleshed out their stories through interaction, observation, and conversation . . . “
"Cpl. Lee "Killer" Clark, a Kentuckian and Marine for eight years, was tall and lean with an enormous head and grossly insufficiently sized ears that painted a picture of cork stoppers in the side of a small keg. He most recently served on the USS Washington and had also been a member of one of the Marine expeditionary companies that had landed in Port-au-Prince, Haiti to restore order in 1915. Clark was most noted for his vulgarity. While most Marines were bilingual in the languages of English and profanity, Clark was the consummate scholar of cursing. When he opened his sewer of a mouth to reprimand Marines, a stream of billingsgate poured forth like fire from the dragon’s mouth.”
“Pfc. Charles Archibald "Chaz" Ashburton, IV’s father was a prominent rich-as-Croesus Philadelphia lawyer. Their family home was a sprawling country estate in the affluent community of Villanova on Philadelphia’s Main Line. Cradled in the lap of luxury, he was in his final year at Harvard Law when he and two dozen of his thirty or so classmates dropped out to enlist. Kenneth had great admiration for Ashburton who, with the world as his oyster, chose to forego polo fields, golf courses, tennis courts, and a yacht, for baked-in-the-sun outdoor gyms, muddy hill trails, steaming parade decks, and a steamship crowded with nearly two thousand snoring, barfing, burping, and farting Marines bound for war. For all his money, he never put on airs. He’d give anyone the shirt off his back, but one shouldn’t try to take it from him as he was quick-tempered and could throw a mean punch. All in all, Kenneth concluded that this compatriot who chose to open his oyster with a sword was one fine fellow from Philly.”
“Pvt. J.D. “Goober” Coyle was from a small town in the Mississippi Delta where, shortly after the Civil War, his family had turned to sharecropping after losing their land to plummeting cotton prices. His father had been lynched by neighbors for helping Negro croppers and for his anti-lynching views. From what Kenneth was able to piece together, the family had suffered a perpetually poor existence for four decades after the elder Coyle’s death, moving to Richmond where they lived an equally threadbare life. How Coyle had made it through the recruiting process boggled the mind. Wrong-footed, clumsy, and bungling while on the move, when standing in-place he exemplified Mark Twain’s observation about someone looking like an envelope without any address on it. When attempting a response to anything but the simplest of questions, it was clear that Coyle was lowering his pail into an empty well. If ignorance is truly bliss, then Coyle, having cornered the market, must have more warehouses full of happiness than Mississippi has barns of cotton.”
“Pvt. Walter “Reverend” Titus had been a divinity student at the Bonebrake Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, when a patriotic calling had, at least temporarily, displaced his religious calling. He had shared with Kenneth a letter he had received from a real reverend on the school’s Board of Trustees, calling soldiers an “abomination unto the Lord,” and scalding him for leaving the service of God to become a patriotic murderer. Titus’s father had also been a man of faith — a travelling preacher who had taken his son on the road and regularly broke more than a few commandments, especially the seventh, until he drank himself to death. Despite his father’s transgressions, or perhaps because of them, Titus had turned to the religious life. Raised on prunes and proverbs and scarred by his patriarchal experiences, Titus, a teetotaler, abstainer, and all-around innocent, had extreme views on drink, fornication, and sin in general, and must, on joining the Marines, have had feelings similar to Abraham when he first gazed on Sodom and Gomorrah. Titus employed an army of sententious proverbs, forever sending them into battle, regardless of their relevance, but, in general, he got along well with the other men who, like Kenneth, seemed to find something comforting about having such a zealously devout type in their midst as they headed off to war. Kenneth thought how he would have liked to have been at Titus’s enlistment physical when the Navy doctor asked him, as they did all recruits, whether he had ever had the clap. No doubt he had employed the solitary curse he allowed himself — mahocket! — a made-up swear that kept him from the realm of blasphemy . . .”
Lt. Blakeslee, as battalion adjutant, supplies the details on 3/6’s battalion officers:
“Lawrence ran his eyes over the room. Quite a crowd, Lawrence thought, these men of letters, this band of brothers, as he observed the gathered lieutenants from his vantage point in the final row of seats. As battalion adjutant, he had gotten to know them pretty well. The major expected him to have an extensive knowledge of the battalion — from muzzle to butt plate he had said — and that included its personnel — twenty-four officers and just over a thousand men. He imagined it was like running a human resources department for a good size company in the business world . . . He reflected on the backgrounds, strengths, and weaknesses of these men who, in the last six months, he had come to know quite well.”
“The company commander of the 85th, Captain Calvin Knight, a former top-kick, had been promoted from the ranks back in 1912. The men in his company had pegged him, correctly, as a horseshit officer — hardboiled, by-the-book, a martinet, a stickler for penny-ante rules, and intractable in his ways. When it comes to discipline, there’s toug
“The company commander of the 85th, Captain Calvin Knight, a former top-kick, had been promoted from the ranks back in 1912. The men in his company had pegged him, correctly, as a horseshit officer — hardboiled, by-the-book, a martinet, a stickler for penny-ante rules, and intractable in his ways. When it comes to discipline, there’s tough and there’s horseshit-tough and the Dark Knight’s was of the Clydesdale variety. His now aloof manner had alienated him from his then fellow NCOs, and his arrogant bravado and constitutional brutality made him a persona non grata among his new fellow officers.”
“86th Company Commander, Captain John Dougherty, radiated coolness, levelheadedness, and competence. He was a South Boston native who had migrated further south to Yale where he earned numerals for the Blue and White aggregation in each of the four years he wrestled. He joined the Marines in 1913 and served at Vera Cruz where he earned a
“86th Company Commander, Captain John Dougherty, radiated coolness, levelheadedness, and competence. He was a South Boston native who had migrated further south to Yale where he earned numerals for the Blue and White aggregation in each of the four years he wrestled. He joined the Marines in 1913 and served at Vera Cruz where he earned a Brevet Medal. Always the soul of courtesy, with old school manners, he was ever courtly and possessed a silken and polished voice that he put to good effect as a member of the Yale Whiffenpoofs — an extremely talented a cappella group Lawrence had enjoyed at a Yale tavern one night after a rowing meet. Whenever there was the slightest chance of confrontation, verbal or otherwise, he would abandon his normally erect posture and drop, ever so slightly, barely noticeably, into his wrestler-ready defensive stance — upper body hunched forward, legs spread just a little wider, and hands held a little higher.”
“In sharp contrast to Cummings, the unassuming and unpretending First Lieutenant Leopold Snodgrass had been promoted from the ranks, having served for ten years and achieving the rank of Master Sergeant. He was stocky and thickset in appearance — a typical Dutch build — and brown as a berry with the skin on his face stretched tight as a d
“In sharp contrast to Cummings, the unassuming and unpretending First Lieutenant Leopold Snodgrass had been promoted from the ranks, having served for ten years and achieving the rank of Master Sergeant. He was stocky and thickset in appearance — a typical Dutch build — and brown as a berry with the skin on his face stretched tight as a drum. He didn’t have the education or social sophistication of his fellow officers, but he was polished to a bright mirror finish with the experiences of leading men when lives were on the line. He should have been second-in-command, but Headquarters in D.C. had a truly long reach, and the Old Man had no choice but to slide Cummings into the slot.”
Robert Remain, Kenneth’s older brother, will be a central character in Volumes II & III. While Kenneth is the primary protagonist in The Remains of the Corps: Volume I, he leaves the Marine Corps in 1919 after the war’s end. At that point, the focus of the novel turns to Kenneth in civilian life and his continuing relationships with Lawrence and KatyKay. Most readers, at least those who were drawn to the novel because of the USMC-connection, will want to see the Marine Corps thread continue. Robert, an enlisted man, arrives in France as a member of a replacement battalion and takes part in the three major Marine battles that follow in the next four months prior to the 11 November armistice. After the war, Robert stays in the Corps, becomes a career Marine, and we have a Remain family Marine Corps presence from 1919 to the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941 (Robert is on hand) after which several civilian Remains enlist in the Marines. Life in the Marines for the twenty-year period between the two world wars is an important time frame to be covered in the novel
While The Remains of the Corps story will be told primarily from the point of view of Kenneth Remain, the opinions and feelings of other key characters will also be depicted, particularly on the battlefield. This approach of varying the viewpoints from which great historical moments are viewed was successfully employed in Once An Eagle by Anton Myrer.
So far, two other points of view have been shared: Lawrence Blakeslee and Pvt. Finn “Red” Murphree (both in II: The Crossing).
I feel strongly that the use of accents and dialects adds to the authenticity of dialogue. Employing significant research, I applied this concept to several characters:
I understand the importance of writing strong female characters. KatyKay Mulcahy, Lawrence’s lady friend who becomes Kenneth’s wife, is one. Lawrence Blakeslee’s revenge-seeking daughter Isabella will be another. Kenneth Remain’s daughter, Josephine, will likely be the third.