I’ve been a published author for over twenty years, writing nonfiction books on everything from menopause remedies to Princess Diana’s last romance. But I’d never written anything about myself until I wrote If My Heart Had Wings: A World War II Love Story, the enthralling story of my mother’s secret first marriage to a pilot who was killed during World War II.
The story begins when I was thirteen and discovered a picture of my mother dressed in an unfamiliar white wedding dress. I ran into the house, waving the picture, yelling, “Mom! I thought you got married in a suit!”
She looked at the picture, smiled sheepishly, and replied, “Well, I guess I always knew I was going to have to tell you someday…I was married once before.” I couldn’t have been more shocked.
Over time, after much prodding, Mom slowly revealed the details of her relationship with Lyndon Raff: what it was like to fall in love, to get married in the midst of a wartime fever, and to lose her first love in a horrific plane crash somewhere in the hills of Burma. She told me about her impulsive decision to quit her well-paying job and move across country as soon as she heard the news, then marry my father before she really knew him. Mom’s romantic tales contrasted sharply with our dreary, high stress home life, colored by Dad’s alcoholism, and the accompanying psychological abuse, oppression, and endless volatility. Perhaps it shouldn’t have been too surprising that, after Dad passed on, Mom suddenly started wearing Lyndon’s wedding ring again and hung his pictures on the wall. In a sense, after being gone for forty-five years, he began to live again.
Later, after Mom herself passed on, I went in search of Lyndon’s family, hoping to return his war medals and other memorabilia nearly sixty years after his death. And what I discovered about him, my mother, his family, the Army and what really happened make this one of the most fascinating true World War II stories ever.
If My Heart Had Wings is a tale of love and loss, corrosive family secrets, the long-term cost of running from grief, and ultimately finding oneself against all odds. It’s also an unforgettable portrait the sweetness of a mother-daughter relationship and the indelible bonds of true love.