DOWN A DARK ROAD is a “gut punch of a novel” based on the WWII exploits of a prominent Oregonian, the late Jim Thayer. You’re side-by-side with Jim when, as a young infantry lieutenant, he and his platoon stumble into the very heart of darkness near the end of the war in Europe. The scenes are chilling and unforgettable, and Jim refused to discuss what he witnessed for decades after. When he finally did, it sparked the creative talents of award-winning author Buzz Bernard. The novel will be released May 9.
DOWN A DARK ROAD is a heart-wrenching historical fiction novel set in Europe near the end of WWII. It is based on the true story of the late Jim Thayer, a prominent Oregonian. Jim was a twenty-three-year-old infantry lieutenant when the events portrayed in the book took place. After the war, he remained active in the army reserve. He retired as a colonel in 1982. Then, from 1989 to 1994, he served as Oregon’s civilian aid to the secretary of the army. He was reactivated into military service in 2000, promoted to brigadier general, and named commander of the Oregon State Defense Force (now the Oregon Civil Defense Force).
Jim earned numerous military awards and honors over the course of his career. His wartime medals include the Silver Star and Bronze Star. Later, from the Austrian government, he was presented the Grand Decoration of Honour for Services to the Republic of Austria.
Not only did Jim remain fully engaged with the military, but his civilian service proved even more extensive. As a highly influential civic leader, he served over two dozen organizations in various capacities. He sat on boards of directors and acted as a chairman, director, or president of various groups and operations. In 2005, the University of Oregon Alumni Association awarded Jim its Distinguished Alumni Award.
This novel is a little less about flying than were my previous WWII books, the WHEN HEROES FLEW series. But DOWN A DARK ROAD is a unique tale about a special man, and I really wanted to tell it. I did manage to squeeze in a bit about heroes flying, so I hope avid readers of my series will find that palatable . . . and a good read.
It will be only natural to wonder how much of DOWN A DARK ROAD is fact and how much is fiction. A large portion of the book is indeed based on fact, including a sequence in which Jim deals with an inebriated company commander playing a piano in Richard Wagner’s bombed-out house in Bayreuth, Germany.
In Austria, most of the scenes involving Jim really did occur. Jim’s platoon ambushed and killed thirty-one German soldiers without itself taking any casualties. Later that same day, Jim actually did engineer the surrender of eight hundred SS troops in the Austrian town of Hörbach. I will admit I took some liberties with the description of that event, particularly the interaction between Jim and the SS major in charge of the surrendering troops.
The discovery of the Nazi death camp in Gunskirchen, Austria, by Jim and his platoon is true, well documented, and the cornerstone of the book. The horrific scenes set in the camp required little or no embellishment.
The story of Jim Thayer was first brought to my attention by my wife, Barbara, who worked for Jim in his office supply store when she was a teenager in Beaverton High School. She also occasionally babysat his children. She lost touch with Jim for a number years, but then reconnected with him in his later years. It was then she realized what a remarkable life he had led and began keeping a scrapbook on him in which she stuffed newspaper and magazine articles. Although Jim had passed away by the time Barbara and I married, she mentioned on numerous occasions she thought his WWII adventures would form the basis of a wonderful novel. Turns out she was correct, as wives so often are.
After I became interested in the project, I got in touch with two of Jim’s sons, John and Tommy, who seemed excited about the idea. John related to me some great anecdotes about his dad’s exploits during the war, and provided me with a superb hour-long video, “Jim Thayer—An Oregon Soldier.” The video was made in 2007 as John and Jim retraced Jim’s WWII odyssey through western Europe.
DOWN A DARK ROAD will be released on May 9 by Severn River Publishing.
An unofficial launch event (reading/signing) will be held at Annie Bloom’s Books in Portland at 7 p.m. on May 23.