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How a Cab Ride in Miami Beach Changed My Life Forever

How a Cab Ride in Miami Beach Changed My Life Forever

It was just another day for another self-centered,  type “A” personality like myself. I had come to do business in Miami Beach of all places and was looking for a cab on Ocean Drive by the beach.

 

Meeting Boris

Next thing I know I’m talking to a cab driver with a weird accent. Five minutes later I’ve learned Boris had a PhD. in computer science, a wife with a Ph.D. in psychology, and two teenage daughters who migrated with Mom and Dad at the onset of Perestroika (1991) in Russia. I also learned his English was still bad after 10 years. So, he hadn’t been able to obtain an education-suitable job. “I drive cab to make money to add to wife income”. She spoke fluent English and was a professor at the University of Miami.

 

For some reason, I asked, “So Boris, after ten years in America what is the most surprising thing you’ve discovered about America?” He turned around and looks at me, “Do you really want to know?”  I said yeah with emphatic inflection. He said, “27 million dead and nobody remembers.”

 

I had no idea what he was talking about. He went on to explain that he was referring to the Russian lives lost during World War II. (As I discovered in subsequent research that number was more like 40 million dead by the time the World War finally ended). So what do I do? I thanked Boris for his insight, got out of the cab, and then just went on with my busy, busy business life…

 

Fate Enters

Fast forward three years. Fate had me living in San Diego. A story appeared in the local newspaper (yes, they still exist!) about an exhibition entitled “World War II Through Russian Eyes”. I went to the exhibit and was amazed by the tragic impact of the Great Patriotic War (the name Russians called World War II). They were invaded, butchered, starved, and frozen by that Nazi nutjob.  I also realized, perhaps for the first time, even though our entire nation was focused on defeating Hitler, there was no such equivalent tragedy on American soil. And, as Boris said, nobody in America even seemed to know or care.

 

The result of this coincidence of fate? I decided to write a book of short stories called The Greatest Patriots. It would be about the Russian families and the Motherland’s  legendary soldiers and families touched and shaken by World War II. Of course, I didn’t speak Russian, and had no Russian friends or ancestry.  So I wondered,  “Where does one start on such a book?”

 

The Amazing Female Teenager

As I began my research in earnest, I happened upon the story of a Russian teenager, Lilia Litvyak, who started flying at 16 and by 18 had trained 45 men for the Russian Air Force! Eventually, Stalin agreed to let her fly air force combat missions, making her the first female fighter pilot in the history of the world. By the time she was 21, she had completed 270 missions, registered 15 solo kills of German fighter planes, assisted on scores of other kills, and was shot down three times before returning to combat.

 

Tragically, on a mission over the Eastern Ukraine, she lost her way in the clouds, was surrounded by a squadron of German Messerschmitts, and was downed for the fourth and final time, 17 days before her 22nd birthday. The twist was that her remains and plane were lost for more than 50 years, and the mystery of her plane crash was a story within a story.

 

I was intrigued, to say the least because nobody outside of Russia even knew her name…unlike Amelia Earhart. I decided to contact prominent officials about getting information so that the world might truly know the story of Lilia Litvyak.  I mailed anybody and everybody for months and months. One day an email arrives from the postmaster general of the Ukraine. It said my request for help had been given priority treatment. I was then directed to contact two women in the Ukraine. There was no explanation why just a statement of “good luck.”

 

Two Women in Krasny Luch

As it turned out, one woman was a museum curator, Valentina Vashenko, who spoke no English;  the other a Ukrainian English teacher. Both now lived in a small town in Eastern Ukraine nobody ever heard of called Krasny Luch. Through a combination of Skype, email, and snail mail, I finally made contact. Their initial response was less than encouraging. “All you guys want to do is call us spies and crooks. We’re not interested in helping with your book research,” said Yelena.

 

I persisted with notes and letters and calls. They finally acquiesced. So I  flew from San Diego to Moscow to Donetsk, Ukraine, (about 18 hours), then drove four hours to Krasny Luch. There I met and visited a tiny room where Valentina had lovingly collected much of Lilia’s memorabilia.  The next day, we drove another 45 minutes into the woods to a little town called Marinkova, where Lilia actually crashed. As I sat in the open field surrounded by nothing but her modest gravestone, I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, I’m really here!”

 

We then spent the next week living in Eastern Ukraine homes because they weren’t any hotels in the area. We were treated like royalty as I collected material, took pictures, and jogged people’s memories. It was a crash course in Russian and Ukrainian culture. Three years, numerous revisions, and some creative license later, the ladies declared the book was “good to go.” One year later the first edition of  Call Sign, White Lily was published in America. It is now in a fifth edition and has been a best-selling work of historical fiction on Amazon.  

 

If you would like to purchase a download or hard copy of Call Sign, White Lily now click here: https://goo.gl/8ozLPJ

 

Something to Think About

Perhaps even more importantly, I’ve had experiences I never imagined happening.  From speaking at Embassies and Cultural Centers in Washington D.C., Moscow, and the United Nations Book Club in New York, to appearing on Voice of America and international television and radio. But, there has been a tragic downside. My dear friends in Eastern Ukraine have been bombed and shelled in the East-West conflict. In fact, the yard in which I took notes on Lilia’s life and times now contains a crater from a bomb that just missed Yelena’s house. Imagine the impact it had on her little grandson Tim, hiding in the cellar for safety.

 

Thanks for taking the journey with me in my anthology of eBooks, movies, and by reading my newsletter for more detail on The World of M.G. Crisci.

 

 

 

DATE: Oct.07.2017 | CATEGORY: Uncategorized | COMMENTS: 0