A Memoir of World War II
Early in our marriage, I occasionally awakened to the screams of my bedmate, a former World War II navigator, trapped in an out-of-control plane. The nightmares soon tapered off, and some years later Fred began to write short stories recounting his wartime experiences-humane, comical, heart-breaking. Once completed, he stored them away. When he was seventy, retired from architectural practice, with time for unfinished business, he re-read his stories and applied for admission to a Spalding Gray monologue workshop at Esalen. He never imagined that first step would lead to a one-man show nationwide, a book, an audio, and a Disney movie option. But best of all, that by going public he'd come to terms with wartime crimes he'd committed and those perpetrated against him.
The HarperCollins book Old Man in a Baseball Cap, published in 1999, is an expanded version of Fred Rochlin's one-hour, ten-minute monologue. In the book he augments his experiences as a navigator of a B-24 bomber in Italy during World War II with glimpses of his life immediately before and after the war. His country-boy morality intact, at nineteen he leaves his birthplace, Nogales, Arizona on the U.S. Mexican border, and stumbles into a world of bewildering strangers and astonishing events. Newly arrived in Italy, he helps a flight surgeon perform a caesarian delivery in a village hut. The next morning he participates in the pointless obliteration of an entire Hungarian village. More incongruities ensue. The kind-hearted lieutenant lives with and loves two girls; the rules-obsessed colonel is sighted in bed with a major. Fred's tour of duty is half over when he's shot down, wounded, and turned over to a female partisan. She's ugly, sexually aggressive, crab-infested, and approaching middle age, but she guides him to safety, and he thinks he's in love. As ordeals pile up and morals dissolve, he stays alive, witnessing things he never thought he'd see, doing things he never dreamed he'd do.
"...has the elements of an epic: love and death, honor and betrayal, vengefulness and martyrdom, and ultimately, the fortuitousness of survival." - Bruce Weber, The New York Times
"His stories of petty officers, unprepared enlisted men, bombing raids gone wrong, and tiny acts of heroism are fascinating... Rochlin's simple prose makes us comfortable, as if we were sitting at a table with an old friend or relative, someone who had lived a remarkable life and now was ready, after a glass of wine or two, to share a bit of it." -Booklist
"This book version of Rochlin's critically acclaimed one-man show of the same name offers a look at World War II that is by turns horrifying, sobering, and hilarious." - Publishers Weekly
"In the book, Rochlin morphs from old man to man-child and back, unseating himself in time-mentally, at least-like Slaughterhouse Five's Billy Pilgrim, yet dodging the staged lunacy of Catch-22." - Los Angeles Magazine
ISBN 0-06-019426-X cloth
Cloth: List price $20, Rochlin Roots West price $15