Books of the region: codes, colonists, ROMs

October 15, 1995|By James H. Bready | James H. Bready,special to the sun

Espionage: It happened in the Pacific too, in World War II

Douglas MacArthur wouldn't have the OSS in his Pacific Theater in World War II; he set up his own, unglamorized intelligence services. Some of their agents penetrated deep inside Japanese-held terrain.

In 1943, a unit of three Americans and nine natives was put ashore in the Philippines. Among them was Robert E. Stahl, a 23-year-old enlisted man trained in radio and cryptography. From Mindanao, then Samar, then Luzon, Stahl's group flashed coded word as to enemy aircraft, ships and troops.

The danger of discovery was unending - no matter how often it changed location, Filipinos soon knew where the unit was. Mostly, they brought helpful information; a few were interested in the price on an American's head. Japanese patrols captured more than one U.S. unit; torture preceded death.

Also to the point, during those 15 months, were balky transmitters, leeches and other jungle delights, typhoons, hunger (Stahl lost 55 pounds), clothing decay, irregular submarine resupply.

Bob Stahl survived (and was commissioned), becoming in time a Towson-based superhighway builder. The 50th anniversary of VJ-Day approaching, he unboxed his files and wrote a memoir, "You're No Good To Me Dead" (Naval Institute Press. 202 pages. $26.95). The title echoes MacArthur's admonition to, in today's phrase, take care.

This modest, candid book sends the message of what it was like in the war.

The Colonial Time

Terra Mariae and the mid-1600s provide place and time in Lucia St. Clair Robson's new novel, "Mary's Land" (Ballantine. 466 pages. $24). The well-to-do (and historical) Margaret Brent quits England for the Calverts' colony; on the same ship, so does (an imagined) Anicah Sparrow of the underclass. Whereupon, in Maryland, Catholics and Protestants slug it out, Brent's brother marries an Indian, Anicah thrives. Ms. Robson lives near Annapolis and has a practiced hand with historical fiction; in "Mary's Land" she revives many a 17th century idiom, in full phosphor.

A Heterodox Life

The short story series that builds into a unified emotion is Dick Scanlan's method in "Does Freddy Dance" (Alyson Publications. 207 pages. $19.95). Set in Maryland, New York and abroad, these 14 stories tell of a family of means, status and alcoholism; a youngest son who from school onward is drawn to same-sex friends and acquaintances. Scanlan writes with impressive skill.

The Social Swim

The title story in Tricia Bauer's "Working Women and Other Stories" (Bridge Works. 204 pages. $19.95) re-creates pre-1980 times at this newspaper, and its Sunday Society section, when the size and placement of a bride's photo (first page, second, back in the ruck) were determined by her family's social position - vice versa, too. There is progress. In 1995, Ms. Bauer isn't bitter, just perceptive - here and in 13 other stories.

Niles At Your Fingertips

Niles' Weekly Register, a national newspaper published in Baltimore, is any historian's best reference for the period 1811-1849. But searching its 30,000-plus densely printed pages can be fearsome. To the rescue: William H. Earle, persevering where earlier indexers left off or gave up, and putting some 380,000 article references (20,000 individuals) into an Accessible Archives CD-ROM. Pratt Library's Maryland Department has it.

James H. Bready wrote for The Evening Sun for many years as a reporter and book editor. He writes a monthly column on Maryland books.

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