Posts Tagged ‘sketches of a black cat’

sketchesI’m delighted to welcome Ron Miner to Diary of an Eccentric today to celebrate the release of the Expanded Edition of Sketches of a Black Cat. I reviewed the first edition of Miner’s book in 2014. Please give Ron a warm welcome as he talks about compiling his father’s artwork and journals from World War II into this fascinating memoir.

This is the simple version of a puzzle that fell into my lap a few years ago when my father passed away at 92. I guess he was typical of most WWII veterans, choosing not to say much about his war experiences and pursue life in a different lane. Just as typically, I was one of four children who never really asked enough of the right questions, and when he passed, assumed I had squandered any chance of exploring this important part of his life with him. But there is more to the story — remember I mentioned art?

When I was a boy, Dad led me to a file cabinet in our basement one morning and pulled from it a worn manila folder. In it were wonderful images — sketches and watercolors of planes, soldiers, and jungles — exciting stuff for a kid. For years afterward I would sneak to the basement to show friends his artwork, until one day I found the cabinet locked. He was on to me, and I wouldn’t see the sketches again as a young man.

Fast forward to the fall of 2011, when after considerable difficulty in making the arrangements, my siblings and I flew across the country and gathered at a small country cemetery for a ceremony. Afterward, we began the sad task of going through his things. I was greatly relieved when my wife found his WWII artwork in an album. Then my brother discovered the first box, and we quickly found others, a nearly 70-year-old trove of war memorabilia, photos, letters sent home, notebooks, and scrapbooks. It occurred to me that my father’s entire wartime story might be hidden within these boxes — if I could just figure out how to put the all of these pieces together again.

In July of 2016, Sketches of a Black Cat was released as an expanded edition — expanded because the original version of the book that was intended for the family generated more traction than I had ever dreamed. More about that later. I mentioned flying huge planes in the dark.

Dad was one of the Navy’s Black Cats, guys who flew at night, without lights, in planes painted entirely black — the original stealth aircraft. He was a pilot aboard one of these PBY Catalinas, 100’ wingspan amphibious airplanes as well suited to the bays as they were the landing strips. The Cats searched the South Pacific, dropping everything from bombs and torpedoes to beer bottles in an attempt to harass and disable a cunning adversary. And to a downed flier, a PBY on a rescue mission was a welcome sight indeed.

His is a tale of seven buddies who flew at night, slept and got into mischief by day, then repeated it all, often cruising 12 hours or more at a time on missions in and around Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands. Dad also used this stretch between missions to sketch and write about what he was seeing. Eventually, the squadron would find nearly every island between the Solomons and the northern Philippine group, searching for Japanese shipping, discovering native cultures, and rescuing surviving airmen. It is a warm and personal story, one that can be humorous or poignant and sometimes tinged with drama and tragedy.

It is written in a memoir style, feeling much as if you or I were suddenly swept away from college life and into the chaos that was WWII. Relating the war through the eyes of an artist, at times there is a certain poetry to the telling:


Courtesy of Ron Miner

Our flight took us over a towering range of mountains shrouded in a heavy blanket of clouds, creating the illusion of an endless snowfield stretching out as far as the eye could see. Occasionally, the clouds parted revealing craggy green mountaintops. As we broke through the cover, a tiny group of islands appeared in the distance. I was in the copilot seat and could soon see the atoll below, an arrowhead shaped perimeter of coral surrounded by a deep cobalt central lagoon that gradually became reddish brown where the various colored coral rose toward the surface, and jade near the edges in areas that sand had collected over it. A garland of foam surrounded the outside fringe of the island where the incoming waves were split by the jagged reefs. As we drew closer, villagers appeared on the beach, among them, groups of young women prancing about topless, somewhat of a new experience for most of us on board. To our disappointment, by the time the outriggers arrived, the ladies were discreetly re-clad in white blouses and there was nothing more to do than drop anchor and set about unloading the cargo. These were a handsome people with strong physiques, somewhat lighter skinned and with smooth complexions. It seemed the men did not readily mark their bodies or paint their hair, and women were shy and attractive with flowers adorning their long hair and sometimes their necks. Most spoke broken English. They escorted us to the beach in canoes through spectacular coral beds. I would have loved to have shared this experience with my Zoology group at Woods Hole — intriguing masses of red pipe and blue and yellow star coral, white brain coral, sea urchins, giant sea squirts, and colorful protochordates of every kind. This was truly a paradise.

Such was the contradiction of war and my father found himself at times conflicted about it all — the natural beauty of the islands and cultures, and the need to destroy an enemy that was using it all as cover.

The first book led to a fortuitous meeting with a special man, a Black Cat who had flown with my father and was living right here in Salem, Oregon. Over time, with his help, I was able to locate 7 PBY crewman from the war and gather filmed interviews to be used in a short, upcoming documentary. Gradually, I was finding answers to the questions I had never asked and gaps in the story were filled with new first hand accounts and historical insights. Characters and personalities revealed themselves more fully and I now felt a compelling story about a largely unheralded squadron was truly complete and ready to share.

The book and artwork have found their way into galleries and museums, most notably the National Museum of the Pacific War in Texas. Who knew? I continue to contact museums and search for other surviving Cats, and whenever I can, encourage families who are lucky enough to have a surviving veteran as a friend or loved one to ask the questions, gently at first. I’ve found most of them to be very forthcoming with the stories at this point in their lives. And it is so important to capture the narratives and the history of this generation while we still can. These legacies are their gifts to us and all of those who will follow.

Thanks, Ron, for sharing your father’s story and a bit about how the project came to be. Best of luck with the documentary!


About Sketches of a Black Cat

(Available in Color or B&W) This beautiful, new FULL COLOR second edition is now one hundred pages longer, filled with additional fresh stories, artwork, photos, and adventures. Since the release of the original, I’ve interviewed seven Black Cats and PBY crew members, discovered a host of new writing, over a hundred letters and documents, and had the pleasure of meeting and corresponding with an array of squadron family members. “Sketches of a Black Cat” will interest first time and repeat readers alike.

Howard Miner was a student at a small Midwestern college when the War broke out. His journey through training and tours of duty as a PBY pilot in the South Pacific are skillfully captured in his art and narratives, framing a wartime drama with a personal coming of age story. This memoir has been reconstructed from a small library of unpublished artwork, journal entries, and writing, providing an enjoyable behind the scenes look at the Navy Black Cats. The descriptive verse from the artist’s viewpoint gives us a creatively told and intriguing portrayal of WWII’s Pacific Theater.

Check out Sketches of a Black Cat on Amazon | Goodreads


About the Author

Ron Miner

Ron Miner

In the late 60’s, I attended the University of Rhode Island, playing soccer, baseball, and graduating with a B.A. in English and minor in landscape design. In 1979, I began a career as a landscape designer and contractor. The opportunity to pen my father’s memoirs, developing the story from a library of unknown resources, rekindled my passion for writing. I am currently submitting articles about the Black Cats and their saga to magazines around the country.

My wife, Heidi, and I live with our dogs in the Oregon countryside near Salem. Heidi is a retired school teacher and we are both active hikers, gardeners, and photographers.

Connect with Ron Miner: website | Facebook | Goodreads

© 2016 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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sketches of a black cat

Source: Review copy from author
Rating: ★★★★☆

The smoke covered hillside dimmed the flashes as our altitude increased.  Ahead, a last bursting shell fanned out in the clear smokeless sky like a brilliant American star to light our way.

(from Sketches of a Black Cat, page 94)

Quick summary: Sketches of a Black Cat is the World War II story of Howard Miner, a PBY pilot in the South Pacific.  His son, Ron Miner, found his artwork, journal entries, and other writings after his death and transformed them into this memoir, which chronicles Howard’s military training, service during WWII, and his life after the war.

Why I wanted to read it: I had never heard of the Black Cats, who flew at night in black seaplanes.  I also was curious about Howard Miner’s story and his artwork.

What I liked: The sketches and writings found by Ron Miner after his father’s death are a real treasure.  Sketches of a Black Cat not only shows his father’s evolution from student to soldier but also emphasizes Ron’s love and admiration for his father.  Howard Miner’s story is detailed, full of adventure and even humor.  The photos, sketches, and watercolors bring this memoir to life.

What I disliked: I wouldn’t say I really disliked anything in this book, but at times, it was too detailed for me.  The descriptions of the planes and their maneuvers, for instance, were not as interesting to me as the overall story.

Final thoughts: As fewer and fewer heroes from WWII remain to tell their stories, books like Sketches of a Black Cat take on greater importance, and the inclusion of original artwork make it one of the most unique WWII memoirs I’ve read so far.  I appreciate Ron Miner taking the time to reconstruct his father’s story, sharing it with the world and ensuring his father and his tales of courage during wartime will live forever within its pages.

war challenge with a twist

Book 18 for the War Challenge With a Twist (WWII)

Book 1 for the Nonfiction Reading Challenge

Book 1 for the Nonfiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I received Sketches of a Black Cat from the author for review.

© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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