In a sense, it’s both an author’s dream and a nightmare: the chance to relay an amazing war tale of adventure, survival and resilience, supported by 600 pages of handwritten correspondence from husband to wife, all meticulously filed. At aged 98, the hero of the story was eager to be involved in the project.
But time is of the essence because, well, the hero of the story is age 98 and would like to see his memoir published. And while the 600 pages of correspondence are pure gold, the additional research and interviews required in a short time frame were challenging. As the author, Juan Carlos Marcos says, “It was a blessing to be able to put the finished book in John’s hands before he passed away.”
The Last Corpsman: The Story of John I. Unger, Chief Hospital Corpsman, U.S. Navy, and Former World War II Prisoner of War in the Pacific chronicles the life of John I. Unger from his birth in Austria in 1920, his immigration to the U.S., joining the Navy, his training as a Corpsman, and his subsequent assignment to the Marines 1st Defense Battalion. The book also captures John’s 44 months spent as a POW. The 600 pages of handwritten correspondence are letters from John to his wife Alice, a relationship that in total spanned 75 years. “Alice’s meticulous filing of every bit of correspondence takes the book to a unique level of historical significance and romantic adventure,” Juan adds.
Juan had been friends with John’s son Brian Unger and his wife Jacki for three decades, and it was Brian and Jacki who discovered the letters John had written to Alice before and after World War II, letters that no one knew existed except the author and recipient. Recalls Juan, “Brian eventually shared his discovery of the letters with me and suggested that it would be a great idea if someone wrote a book about it.” At the time Juan was busy with other projects and had never met John himself.
All that changed four years later, when in March 2018 Juan and his wife Randi visited Brian and Jacki in Florida, where they lived. Juan had a few opportunities during that visit to spend time with Brian’s father John and to read some of the letters. Says Juan, “I vividly recall that, as I shook John’s hand, he grasped both of mine and warmly wished me the best. It was one of those small gestures that convey a lot more than a mere formality. To me, it conveyed a great deal about the man.” Brian then posed the question again to Juan: would he consider writing a book about John? Juan told him he’d think about it and get back to him. “After talking to Randi and reflecting on the opportunity to write about an exemplary and humble man who has lived an extraordinary life, I decided to give it a try. It has been an honor and privilege to write this book.”
With the help of 1106 Design, Juan handled the time crunch by self-publishing the book. 1106 Design provided editing, interior and cover design services. “John was 97 when we decided to write the book,” explains Juan. “We did not want it to take 18 months to be published, as every day John was with us was a blessing. I had self-published before with the help of 1106 Design, so we decided to go that route. By doing so, we were able to put the book in John’s hands well before he passed away in June of 2019.”
Juan says that the historical content of The Last Corpsman was very labor intensive and time-consuming. Randi helped Juan with research and interviews, while Katie Radford helped with the research of the National Archives and military sites. Over 25 books are cited, as well as military journals, websites and newspapers. “It would have been great to have more resources to be able to brainstorm what to include and exclude,” muses Juan.
The Last Corpsman is available in hardcover, paperback and eBook on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. 1106 Design assisted Juan with uploading both versions of the book to IngramSpark and KDP. A limited number of signed books are available by contacting Juan directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Juan adds, “Orders of ten or more books can be purchased at a discount through email as well.”
Both Juan and John actively promoted the book. “John and I had a successful book signing in Florida, where John lived,” says Juan. The book signing resulted in sales of 150 books. In addition, they did radio interviews, and Juan is looking forward to a couple of book club engagements. Adds Juan, “Whatever it does commercially will be the icing on the cake. If the book is a great success, I would be interested in donating part of the proceeds to a worthy military organization.”
We asked Juan for his advice to first-time indie authors. He advises authors to go into self-publishing with open eyes about the costs. “Do it right by using resources like 1106 Design or don’t do it at all,” says Juan. “I know other people who have self-published and tried to do it all themselves, and the final products have been marginal at best.” He also expressed that he found editing to be a humbling yet worthwhile experience.
Juan says that he would self-publish a third time if he found a worthwhile topic or person to write about. Juan’s first book was Warriors at the Helm. “For me, both my books were labors of love and not anything to do with becoming a best-selling author,” Juan emphasizes. “Writing about John was an absolute privilege.”
The Last Corpsman: The Story of John I. Unger, Chief Hospital Corpsman, U.S. Navy, and Former World War II Prisoner of War in the Pacific
Author: Juan Carlos Marcos
Genre: World War II, Love Story, Memoir