Facebook Unexpectedly Provides Information for My Novel

by Phyllis Zimbler Miller on December 18, 2011

Photo of young woman with magnifying glass

I love the unexpectedness of each day on the Internet. I never know who might reach out to me or what information I may find on my own.

Perhaps the most exciting of all is when the Internet provides information I need but have not yet searched for.

It all started when Mary Grovine Elliott Raynor, who is a member of the Facebook group Military Writers Society of America, sent me a private Facebook message that read (these messages are edited):

Just bought your book MRS. LIEUTENANT. Looking forward to getting it (used, off of Amazon).

I messaged back:

Mary — How nice of you. If you would like, I’d be happy to send you a coupon to get a free pdf copy from Smashwords to start reading now.

Mary replied:

Oh, that’s okay, Phyllis, the book will get here. I’m looking forward to it. Have you read “Waiting Wives: The Story of Schilling Manor, Home Front to the Vietnam War” by Donna Moreau? Her father was an Army pilot in 1970, and the family went to stay at the old Air Force Base in Kansas, Schilling Manor, for the year he was gone. The book is very well-written, and really reflects the times. My husband was in the Army at that time, although he never went to Vietnam. We went to Germany.

At this mention of Germany my ears figuratively picked up. From Mary’s Facebook photo she looked as if she might be around my age. I wrote:

Mary, I know about the book “Waiting Wives” although I have not read it. My husband and I actually went to Germany too. We were in Munich from Sept 1970 to May 1972. Where were you and when?

Mary replied:

We were in Frankfurt (USASA COMM UNIT) and my husband worked in the I.G. Farben building. I worked for USAA. That was 1970 – 1973.

I got really excited now because her dates in Germany overlap our dates and she was in Frankfurt, to which an important part of the plot of CIA FALL GUY connects. I wrote:

Mary — Wasn’t the Farben Building the one bombed in May of 1972? If so, I’d like to ask you a few questions for a novel I’m writing.

She replied:

Yes, we were there when it was bombed. A major, just ready to retire, was killed and my husband was the first on the scene. He saw the major lying there dead, in his khaki uniform. Then some M.P.s came on the scene and took care of it. Those were scary times. Bader-Meinhof Gang.

Now I was worried about the plot of CIA FALL GUY because I’m writing about the bombing at the Officers Club and Mary is talking about the bombing at the I.G. Farben building. Mary went on to say:

My husband says: “There were two bombings: first was the Officer’s Club bombing, second was the front entrance to the Farben Building. They were told it was a suitcase bomb. The bomb was in between the two doors, in the foyer. The major was obviously killed by the concussion, not blown apart. Not many people around. My husband does not remember the Farben Building shaking with the blast. He was also there when the Officers Club was bombed, and he remembers shaking. The Officers Club bombing was first, about two weeks before the Farben Building bombing. They weren’t totally sure Bader Meinhof did it. Some thought maybe the Red Army did it, but that was never proven.” Hope that was helpful. (The Officers Club was behind the Farben Building.)

Whew! Mary just relieved my mind about the plot point in my novel. I wrote Mary:

Oh, Mary, thank you so very much. You have just solved a problem of the novel. I thought that the Officers Club bombing wasn’t solved (it happened the day we were in Frankfurt flying back to the U.S. — we read about it the next day in the U.S.) but I recently saw something online about the Farben Building bombing and that one was solved, right? For the novel I need the Officers Club bombing to be unsolved and somehow I thought the two bombings were the same.

Mary responded:

I didn’t even remember that there were two bombings. I was only 18 and rather oblivious to everything. My husband remembers, of course, since he was 21 and in the Army (he was a staff sergeant, E-5). This really is a cool coincidence! He remembered the two bombings. The Wikipedia article seemed to think it was all solved — Bader Meinhof, which was a faction of the Red Army did it.

Now I returned to worrying about my plot. This Facebook message exchange practically read like a suspense novel. Then Mary wrote:

I’m talking to my husband now. Yes, he saw the major that was killed after the Officers Club bombing. My husband was in German class early that evening, and they heard this bomb go off and shake the building they were in. My husband said, “We’re the only people here, we should see what’s going on.” He ran out and saw the major lying on the ground dead, in his khaki uniform, his hat off, in front of the Officers Club. The concussion obviously killed him, as he was not bleeding or blown apart. Then the M.P.s came and chased him away and said, “Get out of here, there may be another blast.” Then later on was the Farben Building bombing in the foyer behind the front doors. Hope this clears it up. We were too young and naive to know what danger we were in.

A followup message read:

I misunderstood my husband last night (we had just gotten in from a long trip) and thought he saw the major outside of the Farben Building, but it was the Officers Club.

Okay, I think by now we have established that Mary’s husband was at the Frankfurt Officers Club at the time of the bombing.

The I.G. Farben Building was being used by the U.S. at the time of the bombing, as the Wikipedia article Mary directed me to explains in more detail (let’s remember Wikipedia articles are not always accurate):

After 1952, the building served as the European center of the American armed forces and the headquarters of the 5th US-Corps. It later became the headquarters for the Northern Area Command until 1994. The I.G. Farben Building was also the headquarters of the CIA in Germany…

The Farben Building bombing happened on May 11, 1972, the day my husband and I flew back from Frankfurt on an Army charter to the U.S.

I now understand that the blurb I read on May 12th in The Wall Street Journal stating that the bombing was at the Officers Club was incorrect. On May 11th the bombing was at the Farben Building. Although it is a long time ago, I clearly remember my shock at reading about the Officers Club because we could have possibly been there that day.

And from this exchange, it appears the Farben Building bombing was solved but the prior Officers Club bombing was not solved. I now feel that it will be okay if I write in a novel that the Officers Club bombing was unsolved.

I asked Mary’s permission to share her story here because our exchange is an excellent example of the connections that social media has made possible today. And I hope you enjoyed this visit to the past. (If you have any input on the bombings, email me at pzmiller@millermosaicllc.com)

P.S. CIA FALL GUY is a novel partly based on information learned when my husband and I were stationed in Munich. Mitch was a second, and then a first, lieutenant with the 18th Military Intelligence Battalion and I eventually got a security clearance and worked at the 66th Military Intelligence Group (housed in the former Luftwaffe headquarters building).

I originally thought that I would write a sequel to my novel MRS. LIEUTENANT, which is partly based on my experiences as a new Mrs. Lieutenant in the spring of 1970 right after the Kent State shootings. I wanted to write about being part of the occupying force in Germany only 25 years after the end of World War II.

Recently, though, my younger daughter has recommended that I write a memoir instead of fiction. I have all the official documents from that time and many other documents, including a copy of the letter I wrote to the Anne Frank House donating money from the very small Jewish military community in Munich when the memorial was in danger of closing from lack of funds.

I agree with my younger daughter, who has suggested the memoir’s title as IF IT IS SEPTEMBER, IT MUST BE OKTOBERFEST. (My husband and I arrived at the train station in Munich on a Sunday in September in the midst of Oktoberfest and did not even know where we were supposed to go.)

Stay tuned for updates. And a big thanks to Mary Grovine Elliott Raynor.

© 2011 Miller Mosaic, LLC

Phyllis Zimbler Miller (@ZimblerMiller on Twitter) has an M.B.A. from the Wharton School and is the co-founder of the online marketing company Miller Mosaic LLC, which now is WBENC certified.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary Grovine Elliott Raynor December 18, 2011 at 11:51 am

This is so wonderful, Phyllis! Modern day media networking makes so much possible! Good luck with your book.

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Mary Grovine Elliott Raynor December 18, 2011 at 12:09 pm

Oh, Phyllis, my husband read this and liked it (yes, he was at the Officer’s Club bombing, or rather, thereafter, not the Farben Building one). He corrected me about his rank. He was not a Staff Sergeant, but rather, a Specialist 5 ( still E-5, a Spec-5). He also remembers being in the Farben Building. My husband was in the Army Security Agency, and his shop handled the secret information for the comm. center and he remembers being up on the top floor where the linguists were. You needed a special clearance to even be up there.

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