This past December, Vintage Wings attended the International Council of Air Shows’ annual conference. We were lucky enough to have Kara Martinelli and the team at Hemlock Films as our booth neighbours.
As it turns out, Ms. Martinelli is not only in the movie business, but is an author as well. She recently published “My Very Dearest Anna: My Grandparents’ Letters from WWII.” Through letters, the book chronicles her grandfather’s training and deployment as a gunner in the Pacific during WWII, as well as the evolution of his relationship with his sweetheart, Ms. Martinelli’s grandmother.
This author was lucky enough to sit down to interview that author.
Vintage Wings (VW): So what prompted you to write this book? Obviously it’s a labour of love, but why this book? Why at this time?
Kara Martinelli (KM): As far as time goes, I got the letters a couple of years ago, and I didn’t want to read them because that’s the end of the line. I kind of wanted to hold onto them, because when I’m done, I don’t have anything new. When I did read them, I loved them so much that I knew my family would want to read them as well. My family, they were all really close with my grandparents. That’s sort of what prompted me to start the project. And as I was going, people were like, “I would love to read that.” It just became this thing, and I thought, “Oh maybe I should actually make it into something.” And then it grew from there.
VW: Can you tell me a bit about your grandparents’ relationship before the war, before he started his service?
KM: He met her when she was probably about 13 or 14. It was one of his favourite stories to tell. Him and his friend were walking down the alley, and she was playing at one of the playgrounds, and he was like, “Who’s that?” His friend’s like, “That’s Annie White Cabbage,” cause her last name was Woytovich, and he did not know how to pronounce it so he called her White Cabbage. And he [Grandpa] would be like, “At that moment, I knew.” So I always thought that was really cute.
She actually dated his cousin at some point, and he always liked her, he just never asked her out until he was ready to leave for the war and got the courage up. And they went out a couple times and then said they would write to each other. Then when he came back they got married.
VW: So their whole relationship really evolved over the course of these letters then?
KM: Yes. It’s very sweet, it’s very nice to have that, for our family.
VW: How long were they married for?
KM: They got married in ‘46 and she passed away in ‘95, so almost 50 years. I’ve never seen anybody love somebody so much. After she died, the way he talked about her, it broke my heart. You could see how he missed her every day.
That generation, it’s just always been romantic to me.
VW: What struck me was how critical those letters were for keeping up morale, when you’re out on the front or in training.
KM: Yes, he even mentions in one of the letters, “Oh I feel really bad for that guy, he doesn’t get any mail.” They didn’t get to make phone calls, they didn’t have email or anything. That was their connection to the world.
The author, Kara Martinelli, dressed in vintage flying gear.
VW: You knew your grandfather so well, was there anything you learned that surprised you throughout this process?
KM: As far as the letters and the stories went, I wouldn’t say they surprised me, but there was a lot in there that I didn’t know.
VW: So how did he look back on those years?
KM: Yeah, it’s hard. Some of the stuff, he would just sort of be quiet about. You’d talk about it and then he’d get quiet. But he mostly focused on the funny stuff. And it was always to do with the military organization or the guys he spent time with.
I knew there was stuff that upset him, but he just wouldn’t talk about it. It depended on the stories. And as much as he loved airplanes, when the Collings Foundation had a B24 and when they came near us, I would say, “Grandpa, we should go look at the plane.” And he would just be like, “No, I don’t want to go, I don’t want to do that.” And I don’t know why – he loved to see photos.
And when I suggested, “Oh, you could go here,” he would say, “No, my travelling days are over.” He never went anywhere when he got back [from the war]. He was like, “I’m done, I’ve seen the world, I don’t want go anywhere else.” The furthest they would go was an hour and a half away [from home].
VW: Do you have a favourite letter or part of the book?
KM: You know, somebody asked me that recently, and I didn’t really have answer. I don’t know. I mean, I guess the whole thing. I love so much of it, it’s hard to pick a favourite. There are parts that really remind me of him that I like.
He would tell me about when he was in training somewhere, they had their barracks inspected and they had a new Sergeant. And everybody said he was a real hard-ass, and they were real nervous about him coming around. One of the guys at the end of the barracks had a bunch of pin-up girls up, and he [Grandpa] would just be like, “The Sergeant walked straight in, looked right at them and was like, “Yep, everything looks good here.” He didn’t look at anything else and walked out.”
He would just laugh so hard, it was so funny. So I love that story because he would just get so happy about it.
VW: Are there certain qualities that made your grandfather such a large influence in your life?
KM: He was absolutely the sweetest person I’ve ever met. Like, I’ve never heard him say a bad thing about anybody. He was absolutely the most wonderful person, so giving and loving and trusting of people. For whatever reason, when I was 18 and he told me he was in the war, I latched on to that immediately. I had no interest in history at that point. At the time, I just thought, “Oh that’s really cool.” He got me interested in that stuff. I was close with my Grandma too, it was just a different kind of relationship.
VW: Do you think your grandfather would be really proud of you, seeing your name in print, telling the family story?
KM: Oh, I can see him reading an article about it in the local paper and being, “Oh boy, look at that, you’re in there!” I can see him getting really excited about that.
VW: Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me today.
KM: Thank you.
You can order Ms. Martinelli’s book through her website http://www.dearestanna.com/My_Dearest_Anna/Home.html.