It’s 1943 and nearly the entire world is embroiled in war. Nina Ostrom and her husband, Lyndon Raff, an Army Air Forces pilot, have been married just one year when the unthinkable happens: Lyndon is killed in action in a plane crash. Nina tries to block the pain by moving across the country to Los Angeles, getting a new job, and starting a brand new life. Two years later, Nina marries Jay Taylor, a soldier she barely knows, gives up her career, and plunges into the stultifying domestic life common to many mid-century women. Jay, who is jealous of Lyndon, forbids any mention of him, saying, “I can fight a real man, but I can’t fight a ghost.” So Nina buries her memories for the next twenty years. But when her thirteen-year-old daughter, Nadine, finds a picture of her wearing an unfamiliar bridal gown, the story of love and loss suddenly comes out. And the contrast between Nina’s old life and her current one becomes painfully evident.
Shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Lyndon Raff joins the Army Air Forces with the goal of becoming a pilot. When he gets his wings, he marries his longtime girlfriend, Nina Ostrom, and the two spend ten ecstatic weeks together at Ft. Bragg before he is deployed to India as a transport pilot.
In India, Lyndon is given the highly dangerous assignment of delivering supplies to China by flying straight over the Himalayas, a task known as “flying the Hump,” where he braves 200 mph winds and deadly downdrafts, heavy fogs, ice formation on the plane’s exterior that can easily send it into a nosedive, monsoonal rainstorms, and surprise attacks by Japanese fighter planes – all without the help of radio or navigational aids.
Yet his real concern was getting back to his beloved new wife as soon as possible. In one letter, he writes: I had a couple swell months [with my wife] so I’m not complaining, but I know now just why I want the “brass” in Washington & Delhi to get this war over with and let me go home…!
Unfortunately, this would never happen.
In the summer of 1966, thirteen-year-old Nadine confronts her mother with an old picture showing Nina in an unfamiliar wedding dress and learns, to her astonishment, that Mom had once been married to a pilot who was killed during World War II. Over the course of a particularly oppressive summer, while Dad rages over a business loss and drinks himself into a stupor, Nadine and Mom find refuge in tales of Mom’s once romantic life with Lyndon. To Nadine, Lyndon becomes a symbol of what love and marriage can be, under the best of circumstances. Over time, Lyndon continually “reappears” in Nadine’s life, even long after Mom herself is gone. And indirectly, this long-dead soldier teaches her important lessons about life, love, her mother and herself.
After suffering through a horrendous childhood, much of it spent fighting off his alcoholic and abusive mother and stepfather, Jay frees himself by joining the Army at the beginning of World War II. Stationed in New Guinea and later the Philippines, he gains much-needed confidence thanks to his position as a first lieutenant in charge of a ship repair facility. During his time in the South Pacific, he writes to Nina, a lovely woman he met briefly before going overseas. And when the war is over, he marries her and fathers two daughters.
Jay eventually becomes an independent real estate appraiser, but the ups and downs of being a self-employed, coupled with emotional scars from his childhood, drive him to alcoholism, which causes him to repeat many of the mistakes made by his own parents and, ultimately, alienate his own family.
One was jealous of her daughter-in-law, the other was furious that her daughter received no insurance money to compensate her for the loss of her young husband during the war. The two went to the same church every Sunday but sat as far apart as possible and never spoke. Could it be that one got back at the other by finding a way to keep Lyndon’s remains from returning home for burial? Could it be that the other spread lies that filtered down through the generations? Tales of love and loss in war belong to many people, including and especially the mothers who are left behind, brokenhearted..
Superb! A wonderful story of devotion and tough times… It’s a beautiful narrative reminding us that when we lose someone we love, we pay with grief. And the greater the love, the greater the grief. But would we have it any other way?”
C. Paul Hilliard Vice Chairman, Board of Trustees, The National World War II Museum
Nadine Taylor takes us on a suspenseful journey as she uncovers the mystery behind her mother’s secret first marriage during WWII. Along the way, she confronts family demons, finding clues that will ultimately lead to her own happiness. A deeply moving tribute, meticulously researched and engaging from start to finish.”
Carol Starr Schneider Writer
Fantastic book! Nadine Taylor’s latest work, If My Heart Had Wings, is, hands down, my very favorite read of 2018. Fast-paced, enjoyable, well researched, magnificently written, I felt as if I’d been transported to another world where things are not what they seem, puzzles abound, and the answers lie hidden in the past.”
Denise Dudley Founder and former CEO, SkillPath
I recommend this to anyone who likes World War II tales and stories about strong women who never give in to adversity.”
Miss Dorothy Vine Voice
I found this historical memoir to be fascinating. Not the usual WWII story, If My Heart Had Wings is at once poignant and heartbreaking.”
Marion Marchetto author of The Bridgewater Chronicles