It may have taken seven decades, but the book Melville Jacoby never got to finish is finally taking shape. This morning marks one of the most exciting as I continue to pick up where Mel was silenced. In a short while I'll be in an apartment in Alhambra, California, meeting with George T.M. Ching, his wife, and their daughter. George was one of Mel's dear friends during his time as an exchange student at Lingnan University. At ninety-seven-years-old, it's uncertain how able George will be to deeply reflect on Mel's life, but I expect the chance to share some time with someone who Mel cared strongly about, and who cared strongly about him will be valuable.
Already, the past ten days have brought me much deeper into Mel's story. What I've seen is unbelievable: first hand accounts of journalists nervously huddling in a Manila hotel room as they debate whether to escape or face capture by the Japanese, photographs of newlyweds in makeshift clothes making the best of an island refuge while on the run, home movies of bomb-ravaged cities, shocked telegrams spreading the news of a young journalist's death, playful letters home from an eager college student travelling the world, massive cables describing the buildup for war to editors. That's just a sliver of what I found.
I'm excited to have all this raw material to work with because it so enriches what I know not just about Mel, but the world in which he lived. But, of course, raw material is one thing. I need to write it up. From reading Mel's letters I know all too well that all our plans can be so suddenly shattered. From what seemed like safety in Australia, Mel dashed off his last cables to the U.S. They included negotiations with New York publishers about a book deal based on his reporting, as well as early drafts of that book. I may struggle to make ends meet to write and publish Mel's story, the one he was never able to tell, but as many sacrifices as I think I might be making to tell it, I'm not making the sacrifice - ultimately so much nobler - that Mel made to the world and his country as he told that story. As much research as I'm doing, writing is just as important. Mel's story cannot linger another 70 years for some distant relative to pick up.