From Warpath Across the Pacific to the first volume of Ken’s Men Against the Empire, our books have become the standard for World War II unit histories as well as a go-to for the history of the air war in the Pacific Theater. How did we get here? We’ll take you through part of the process of how we turn piles of photos and information into the next great installment of the Eagles Over the Pacific series.
It starts with gathering as much primary source material as possible: photos, personal diaries, letters, interviews, squadron and unit reports, medal citations, missing aircraft crew reports, and so on. Material borrowed from individual veterans was processed first, so it could be returned in a somewhat timely fashion. Before the days of scanners, photos of the photos were taken, printed out, and organized into reference binders by month. The original photos were then returned to the veterans who graciously loaned them to us. Several copies were printed so they could be added to designated binders such as: date binders, bases and targets, squadron, appendix and color photos, general unit information, and miscellaneous. These days, any new photos we receive are scanned at a high resolution, digitally repaired to get rid of scratches or stains, and added to our database. We are also in the midst of a mass digitization of the reference binders—although keeping the digital database organized is a difficult task unto itself!
Diaries were also scanned and usually transcribed to make it easier for later referencing, and then returned, if we had received the original copy. Squadron and unit reports are also transcribed. These reports were obtained on trips to the National Archives, Maxwell Air Force Base, and other places. All the paper material is copied, then organized into monthly folders, which we call date files. The size of these files depends on how much happened in a given month. Any new information we receive, which happens often, is immediately added to a chapter or filed for adding later.
Everything in these file folders has been typed up into documents divided by month, which we call our research drafts. These files are incredibly important to our co-authors as they begin the process of writing each chapter. Over the years, we have also built up a large reference library, which is also available to our co-authors looking for additional information to fill out a unit’s history. While writing the chapter, the co-author always has an eye on the photo binders. Photos are selected and added to the draft in tandem with the manuscript itself, as the two are tied so close together. This is also when the captions are written—and sometimes, they’re the trickiest part of the chapter.
After the photos and text have been (mostly) finalized, it’s time for the first layout that brings them together on the page. This process is similar to scrapbooking, except that it’s on a computer and not as colorful. Each chapter is laid out, later followed by the front matter, appendices, color section, and end matter. Chapters always go through at least five rounds of editing. Beyond editing the text for factual and grammatical errors, photos are resized, added, moved, or deleted. Chapters might be combined or broken up for better flow.
The process is repeated for the appendices and the color section, but with a few differences. Come back next week as we tackle the rest of the process from layout to printing. Questions or comments so far? We’d love to answer them below.