This summer, a novel will be released chronicling the true story of a local woman who discovered a relatives’ part in World War II and his friendship with Teddy Roosevelt Jr.
Beth Rieman, a Delaware resident, wasn’t sure what she would find when she began sorting through a box of family heirlooms, but she never expected to discover her family’s connection to the D-Day invasion of Normandy, France, or a cane that once belonged to Teddy Roosevelt Jr.
The cane, Rieman said, was given to her great-uncle, Brig. Gen. James S. “Jim” Rodwell, by Roosevelt Jr. when they served together in the 4th Infantry Division during the war.
Since discovering the cane, Rieman has been on an adventure that included a trip to Normandy, where she ended up donating the cane to a local museum.
Rieman’s journey and the story of Rodwell and Roosevelt Jr. will be released this summer in the book “Unpacking Yesterday: A Brotherhood’s Legacy.”
Rieman said she wrote the book as a way to honor Rodwell’s heroism and leave behind a legacy for him.
“My great-uncle and wife had no children,” Rieman said.”…Uncle Jim died in 1962, before men were really talking about the war, certainly before anyone was starting to collect their stories. Therefore, his experiences were sort of lost and packed away for 75 years, just waiting to be discovered. I wanted to write the book to honor Uncle Jim’s heroism, and to leave a permanent legacy for him; I wanted others to learn of a great man and the friendship between two officers that exemplifies the bond of brotherhood felt by soldiers at war.”
Rieman added it didn’t take her long to realize what she was learning about her great-uncle would make for an interesting read.
“I knew I wanted to write a book as soon as I started experiencing so many magical moments while unpacking my grandmother’s boxes, but I couldn’t figure out how to write it in a unified way,” Rieman said. “I ended up writing in the first person in my uncle’s voice (through imagined letters sent to my grandmother), Teddy Roosevelt’s voice (through imagined journal entries during WWII), and then in my voice through Facebook posts. The entries go back and forth between the two men while my own entries are mostly towards the end, but also scattered throughout when appropriate. In this way, it is like the reader is unpacking boxes with me and discovering the artifacts as the pages are turned.”
Rieman said the most important part for her was leaving her uncle’s legacy behind so others could discover it.
“When I opened my grandmother’s boxes and learned of my uncle’s war experience, I knew I had to do this for him,” she said. “Everything along the way has fallen into place in the most bizarre ways, and I just have to think he had a hand in this!”
Rieman said the book comes out this summer and is now available for preorders on the publisher’s website. The book will ship in June.
“I am sort of still in a state of disbelief,” Rieman said. “I can’t believe this is actually happening. I have shed a lot of tears knowing that Uncle Jim and my grandma had a hand in this, knowing that more people will know the story of Uncle Jim, Teddy Roosevelt Jr., and the 4th Infantry Division in WWII, and knowing that there is finally a permanent legacy for a man who did so much for other people.
“From the start of this journey, I have had a lot of extraordinary experiences that feel guided by loved ones passed, including my trip to France, and a publisher picking up this book was certainly one of those experiences. I am honored to tell the story and hope that Uncle Jim and my grandmother are hugging and smiling down, proud of what is happening,” she added.
Rieman, who works as a literacy coach at Conger Elementary School in Delaware, said she regularly speaks as a presenter to veterans groups and other audiences as well as. She’s hopeful her new book will provide another way for people to experience stories from WWII.
“It is my hope that this book will open that world to readers and motivate them to unpack the legacies their own ancestors have left behind,” Rieman said. “Every story matters, and I hope others will start to discover the stories of those who came before and had a hand in making them who they are now.”
The book can be preordered at www.deedspublishing.com/product/unpacking-yesterday. Rieman said the book will later be distributed worldwide by Amazon.
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.