Extensive research about her father's time as a prisoner of war evolves into a 400-page tribute to his legacy
Looking back, Alice Flynn said her father rarely spoke about his time as a soldier and prisoner of war near the end of World War II.
'I remember he wouldn't let us watch Hogan's Heroes, because that was Stalag 13 and that was where he was,' she said, sitting in her Metzger living room, a stack of World War II textbooks on her coffee table. 'He said the camp that he was at was nothing like that. It wasn't funny or humorous, so we couldn't watch that when he was around.'
Now, almost two decades after her father's death, Flynn has put all the pieces of her father's life and service into a new book.
'Unforgettable' tells the story of her father, Thomas Flynn, who served as a commanding officer in the 28th Infantry Division in the 110th Infantry Regiment and fought in the Battle of the Bulge before being captured by German troops.
'I asked Dad bluntly one time 'Where were you in the Battle of the Bulge?' he said 'In the bulge' and that was it,' she remembered. 'He told bits and pieces. I was one of eight kids so he told bits and pieces to each one of us over the years.'
A quiet and unemotional man, Flynn said that after his death in 1993, she thought she had learned everything she ever would about what happened to her father.
But after becoming a grandmother two years ago, Flynn said she knew she had to tell her grandson about her father.
'I wanted my grandson to have a good story about what his great-grandfather was like because everybody loved my dad,' she said. 'I thought if I got 10 pages I would be lucky.'
Now, two years of research and nearly 400 pages later, Flynn's account of her father's life and service has not only helped her tell her father's story, but has also helped her connect with her father in a way she never had before.
'I cried writing it'
Flynn first started looking into her father's life a few years ago, when her family began cleaning through her father's old papers after his death.
'We started going through Dad's file cabinet and we found this application,' Flynn remembers.
In an application sent to the Department of Veterans Affairs, Flynn's family found a list of several POW camps that her father had been taken to.
From there, Flynn was able to get her father's medical files and other information from the VA, found book after book about her father's division and their struggles during the war, and even found extensive interviews her father had done after being liberated from a prisoner of war camp in 1945.
Piece by piece, Flynn began to learn her father's story. How he had had been shipped to Europe for combat duty as a replacement officer and found himself promoted to commanding officer of K Company after hundreds of men were killed in the Battle of Hürtgen Forest. How what was left of his company was told to hold the small town of Hosingen, Luxembourg at all costs, and spent 2½ days fighting 5,000 German troops before being forced to surrender. How he spent more than four months as a prisoner of war.
'And my family never knew any of it,' Flynn said. 'My mom and siblings are reading it now and they are shocked. It's really hard for them to read.'
And, Flynn said, it was difficult for her to write as well.
'I cried a lot when I was writing it,' Flynn said. 'I couldn't believe it, my poor Dad. It's hard for my family to read it, and hard to realize that Dad lived through all that and could never talk about it.'
A native of Manhatten, Flynn's father moved to a small Iowa town after returning home, which Flynn said was likely her father's way of coping with what had happened to him.
'He wanted peace and quiet. Someplace where he wasn't locked in a boxcar being bombed or all of the other stuff he went through, because he never forgot what happened.'
Flynn said she would love for the book to one day be made into a film, because her father's story is so captivating.
'It is just a great story,' she said. 'People love a good story about a good guy, and there is even a love story in there with my mom. They were married one month after they met and were married for 51 years.'
Flynn said there are likely hundreds of families across the country that know little about their loved one's involvement in the war.
'There are a lot of families who don't know what their parents went through, and a lot of people out there who say their parents never talked about it, and after they died their family wanted to find out.'
Flynn outlines her own research process in the book, to help others wanting to track down their own stories.
Flynn said that the book helped her to connect better with her father by understanding what happened to him. She still has her father's old uniform, which he wears on the front cover of the book.
'I always felt like leading by example was the way to go and I want any of my grandchildren to read it and see what a good person my dad was,' she said. 'He was patriotic and heroic. He had all the greatest qualities that people of that generation had.'
Copies of 'Unforgettable: The biography of Capt. Thomas J. Flynn' are available on Amazon.com or on Flynn's website unforgettableveteran.com.