December 7, 1941—Newlyweds Walt and Nora Baran reluctantly part at a train station. In one month, he’ll be home to stay. Or so they think.
On the train to Fort Bragg to serve his final days in the Army, Private First-Class Walt Baran hears the breaking news. Pearl Harbor has been attacked. The US is going to war.
With hopes and dreams on hold, Walt is desperate to escape the infantry and avoid having to kill. A pregnant Nora dreads losing her husband. She yearns to escape the narrow confines of her immigrant upbringing.
As the war heats up, they conceal hardships from each other in letters that take far too long to arrive. In Europe, Walt sees unspeakable horror as he ducks artillery rounds and bombs. In the States, Nora gives birth to Alek, a frail baby who needs expensive medical care.
The truth of their lives lurks between the lines of their letters. As months turn into years, trust and faith are stretched to the limit. The question of survival weighs on everyone’s mind.
Can Walt survive the war?
Will Baby Alek recover?
Is Walt and Nora’s marriage strong enough to overcome their secret battles?
Praise for Secret Battles
“Today, when email and message apps make communication virtually instantaneous, it’s hard to imagine the agony of waiting weeks or months to read a loved one’s heavily-censored words from across the world. Or to fathom the torturous decisions – what secrets to keep, what truths to reveal? Through the letters of Walt and Nora Baran, Geri Throne shares the intimate struggle of two people writing to keep hope and love alive in a war-torn world. Secret Battles will have you hoping they succeed.”
Darlyn Finch Kuhn
Author of Red Wax Rose, Three Houses, and Sewing Holes.
“Secret Battles is an exquisitely written work filled with engaging characters and an authentic and believable story line. Set in the anguish and heartbreak of World War II, Secret Battles is aptly named. Nora is a beautiful war bride who struggles with shattered expectations. Her husband, Walt, is a reluctant soldier to whom the idea of slaughtering another human being is repugnant. He goes off to war battling real enemies as well as secret demons left from an unresolved family tragedy. This thought-provoking book engages on many levels and lingers with this reader long after the last word is read.”
Author of Rail Walking and Other Stories
Pushcart Prize nominee
“Set in WWII America, Geri Throne’s debut novel chronicles ordinary people whose lives take extraordinary turns in a vividly imagined tale of separation, isolation and the healing power of abiding faith. You won’t want to miss this one.”
Editor, The Winter Park Voice
“Secret Battles is a story of love, war, and the lies we tell ourselves and our loved ones to make life seemingly easier. Using historically in-depth accuracy and strong characters, Throne tells a tale about the brutality of war and the fragility of life and relationships. Secret Battles will leave you cheering for the book’s protagonists, Walt and Nora, while also convincing you that no one is all villain nor all hero.”
Elizabeth Baker Young
Course Director, Full Sail University
“Secret Battles immediately drew me into the reality of the World War II era as it follows the experience of a young medic in Africa and Europe and his wife back home. Throne skillfully depicts the medic’s desperate struggle to save lives as bombs explode and more soldiers are wounded or killed. It is a novel that lingers long after the last page is read.”
Former Deputy Managing Editor, Orlando Sentinel
A single golden hair caught his eye the moment his train car rolled into sunlight. Walt pulled it from his khaki coat. Between his fingers the strand of Nora’s hair felt strong as cable, sturdy enough to link him to her—her scent, her taste, the swing of her hips, the catch in her laugh.
Her parting words buoyed him: “At least you’ll be home again soon.”
Not just soon. For good. In one month, his Army hitch would be over, no matter how many rumors of war he’d heard at Fort Bragg. That was the reason he’d enlisted back in January. Serve your one year before trouble starts: That’s what the recruiter said and it made sense. If he waited to be drafted, he could end up in the Army a lot longer. Eloping with Nora two months later made sense, too. She was all he needed.
As the train headed south from the Newark station, he pulled a blank piece of paper from his chest pocket and dug out a pencil from deep in his satchel.
Dec. 7, 1941
Leaving you is still the hardest thing I have to do in this darn Army. It was heaven being home on leave. I promise you that next month our life will be—
His pencil skidded across the paper, the victim of a drunken Marine careening down the aisle. The man fell hard against him. Flushed and panting, he screamed into Walt’s ear: “Did ya hear the news? Did ya?”
Walt’s instinct was to pummel the fool. He started to swing but thought better of it. Too many military police hounded the train cars. He shoved the Marine away. “You’re stewed, you idiot,” he hissed. “Sit down and leave the rest of us alone.”
The marine reeled back, his eyes wide. “Listen to me! It’s the goddamn dirty Japs. They—they…” He was almost choking on his words now. “They b-bombed us!” His voice grew louder as he stumbled away: “I’m tellin’ the truth.”
“Get lost, you asshole,” another soldier yelled. A chorus of skeptical passengers muttered agreement as the Marine staggered toward the rear door.
Walt winced. Better to ignore the drunk, whose combined stink and noise made him unreliable at best. He pictured the MPs tying a straightjacket on him as soon as the train stopped in D.C., but a nervous silence filled the jammed car after the man lurched out the door. One by one, the passengers—most of them young enlisted men returning to their Army bases—lit cigarettes and shifted in their seats, their tension as thick as the car’s smoky air.
Walt noticed such things without trying. He was curious about what made people tick; he had a knack for reading them. “That’s the problem with you, boy,” his father once told him. “There’s two kinds of people in this world—the ones that do and the ones that watch. You’re a watcher, that’s all you are.”
You don’t even know me, Pop, Walt thought. The kind of man I am. The things I can do.
As the train barreled south toward North Carolina, tension in the stifling car grew. Everyone in his car was probably thinking the same thing, Walt thought: What if that damn Marine was right?
At the next stop, he jumped off and raced to the nearest newsstand. A wall of customers surrounded the vendor, screaming for late editions. He pushed through until he spotted a headline filling half a front page: “JAPS ATTACK.” Goddamn that Marine, he thought as he pulled out a nickel and grabbed a copy. Couldn’t he have given us just a few more hours peace?
He scanned a few paragraphs, enough to grasp the larger truth: The United States surely was going to war, just as Franklin D. Roosevelt had wanted.
In the breath that separates reason from panic, he imagined boarding the next train back to New Jersey and running off with Nora. He’d gone AWOL from Fort Bragg twice already to see his wife, hadn’t he? And no one ever found out. Surely America was big enough to hide him again. But the thought of Nora made him realize that by now she probably had heard the news, too. He rushed to a phone booth where the line snaked ten-men deep. “Come on, come on. Hurry up, why don’t you?” he mumbled under his breath as each soldier picked up the phone. His turn came just as the conductor began to call passengers to board.
She answered on the first ring, her voice small and tight.
“What’s going to happen to us, Walt?”
“It’ll be all right. Don’t worry. We’ll get through this.” He tried to sound confident. In the long silence that followed, he heard her deep breaths.
“Walt?” she said finally.
“I love you.” she whispered. She hung up before Walt could tell if she was crying.