Flower of Iowa, my World War I novel about two soldiers who fall in love on the Western Front in 1918, has taken my husband, Chuck Muckle, and me on a journey far and wide. We have presented our dramatized reading from the novel to appreciative audiences from Paris to Provincetown, from London to Fort Lauderdale, from Dublin to San Francisco.
Two American divisions in the Great War drew most of their men from the Golden State. One of them, the 91st, saw action in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, which plays a pivotal part in Flower of Iowa. American forces attacked along a front of about 18 miles; appropriately enough, the “Wild West Division” advanced on the western edge of that front, even as the 33rd, Tommy’s division, was gaining ground on the eastern end.
Among the archives of the GLBT Historical Society Museum in San Francisco are the papers of one Clarkson Crane, a Chicago native who relocated with his family to the Sacramento area. He served as a driver in the U.S. Army Ambulance Corps, receiving the French Army’s Croix de Guerre. Upon discharge, Crane came home.
In 1924, he returned to France, becoming yet another expatriate in the Paris of the era made legendary by Gertrude Stein and her circle. There he wrote his first novel, The Western Shore, which daringly featured a main character who clearly was homosexual. Published in 1925, it failed to gain a wide audience. The following year, Crane returned to San Francisco and met Clyde Evans – with whom he would spend the next 47 years.
I am struck by the personal parallels in Crane’s story: An Illinois native, I, too, have published a novel with a gay character. And I, too, have spent more than 40 years with the love of my life.
Clarkson Crane’s story as a gay military man who came home to the Bay Area also provides a contrast with the next war. As Allan Bérubé so ably depicted in Coming Out Under Fire, San Francisco became a gay epicenter after World War II, partly because it was the first place in the U.S. to which enormous numbers of servicemen and -women, their lives changed by the Pacific War, returned. Looking around to see like-minded souls, they decided not to go home!