Recently Robert Boyd Delano gave an exclusive interview to MyBestYears.com.
What he revealed about himself, his childhood growing up in the Oklahoma
Panhandle and his remarkable post-World War II novel is both refreshingly
heartwarming, poignantly candid and—at times—unabashedly revealing.
THE BIRTH OF A NOVEL
MBY: In addition to your wonderful novel, The Happy Immortals,
what seems to be attracting attention all around the globe is the
fact that your manuscript set on a shelf for over a half-century,
collecting dust. How did something so wonderful go unnoticed for
so long? Everybody seems to like this part of the story.
RBD: I guess it does seem a little unusual, but there was no great
plan. I wrote the book after graduating with a degree in journalism
at Oklahoma University. I wanted to be a foreign correspondent,
and I really enjoyed writing, so the book started coming together
during that time.
MBY: Specifically, how did the book come together?
RBD: I took several advanced writing courses. I always enjoyed all kinds of books through
the years, so writing seemed fairly natural to me. I had teachers who encouraged me along
the way. All of these pieces seemed to come together when I began working on The Happy
MBY: Did you start writing the book while you were still in
RBD: Afterward. In the meantime, even as I was writing the
book, I got a great opportunity to go to work with Apco Oil
Corporation. It turned out to be more than just a job,
because I ended up spending most of my career with them.
MBY: Also, you got married and started your family.
Obviously that changed a lot of priorities.
RBD: The priorities did change. Being married to Margie
was so wonderful. She was like a dream to me, literally
everything I had ever hoped and prayed for. Even after our
babies came along, I still tried to keep writing, but it wasn’t
as important as before I got married and started a family.
Once Margie and the babies were asleep at night, I would
stay up with my old L.C. Smith typewriter on the kitchen
table, pounding out the story as it came to me.
MBY: How long did it take you to write The Happy Immortals?
RBD: With all that was going on, it took several
MBY: Was it the book that you originally planned, or
did it change a lot during the process of writing?
RBD: It did change a lot. As I got into the book more
and more, it sort of took on a life of its own.
RBD: I really didn’t plan to get into Okinawa’s island culture as much, but I remembered so
much about the people during the time I spent there during World War II, and it just
seemed right to place more of the story there among the warm and wonderful people
whose lives had been changed so much by the war.
MBY: How did your family react to the time you spent writing the book?
RBD: Margie was very cooperative and supportive. I really didn’t say a lot about it to other
people. I tend to be a pretty private person, anyway, so it wasn’t something that I
trumpeted out loud too much.
MBY: Did you ever pitch it to publishers?
RBD: I did eventually send it off to Wm. B. Eerdmans. They were a leading publisher at the
time. They expressed interest in it and asked me to do several re-writes. In the end, as
their editor explained to me, it came down to my book and another one with a similar
theme. In the end, they decided on the other one.
MBY: Did that discourage you for going forward with the project and pitching it to other
THE OIL BUSINESS
RBD: Sure, after all the time I had spent doing the re-writes, it was mighty discouraging.
Still, with everything else going on, the book became something that just seemed less and
less important. As my career continued to prosper in the oil industry and as my family grew,
I simply didn’t have the extra time to pursue getting a publisher or doing much else with it. I
always figured that I would get back to it someday, but someday never seemed to come
with the busy life I led.
MBY: Do you regret not pursuing your writing career more during your career?
RBD: It really came down to priorities. I felt that my family was such a gift from God, and my
career was a real blessing. It always comes down to choices about where you give your
time and energy. In my case, even though I really felt like The Happy Immortals was a good
book, I made the conscious choice to do what seemed to be much more important at the
MBY: Any regrets?
RBD: Not really. Under the circumstances, if I had it to do all over again, I would choose to
put God, my family and my job at the top of the list. I thank the Lord every day that He
helped me make the right choices.
MBY: So the timing for the book simply wasn’t right…?
RBD: Apparently so. It was a dream that I hoped would come true someday, and I sure put
a lot of my time and energy into making it the kind of story that I wanted to tell, but in the
end I decided that my success or my fulfillment wouldn’t be based on whether the book
itself ever saw the light of day or not.
MBY: Did you continue to write, or was it something that you simply didn’t have time to do?
RBD: The next few decades were spent building my career. I pushed The Happy Immortals
aside and assumed that it was something I enjoyed doing, but like other things in life, it was
something not really meant to be.
MBY: Actually, you had even less time as you got involved in owning your own business
later in life, right?
RBD: It did. I ended up moving into business ownership. Then grandbabies came along.
And we’ve always been active in our church. It always seemed like there was something
else to do, and the book wasn’t even on the list..
SETTING ON A SHELF, GATHERING DUST
MBY: So the book and your writing plans were completely set aside, gathering dust on a
RBD: As I got older, I still wanted to see it published, but I didn't want to get involved in a
vanity press or self-publishing thing, and since I didn't have contacts any longer in the
publishing industry, I guess I just figured that it was dead and gone.
MBY: What happened to get that dream going again?
RBD: Several family members and friends asked to read the book through the years and
offered encouragement. Then in 2006, a relative asked to read it. He had spent most of his
lifetime as an author and writer. It turned out, right then, that he was in the process of
working with several other industry people to start a brand new publishing company.
MBY: What happened when he read it?
RBD: Suddenly it went from being a dusty old manuscript to having life breathed back into
MBY: How did it happen?
RBD: He called within a day or two after he received it. He told how much he loved the
manuscript. He talked at length about the need for The Happy Immortals to be published.
He already had several other people starting to read it, so the process was already
underway, as it turned out.
MBY: What did it feel like to suddenly start realizing that the book might be read by a mass
RBD: Well, I knew from past experiences that it probably wouldn’t be that simple or easy.
Actually, the publisher told me—as I was told fifty years before—that it was coming down to
my book or another book by a fairly well-known person. I believe they were going to publish
it for sure by then, but it was a matter of which book would be the first to be published
under the new Prairie Hill Press banner. Thankfully, he called me right after that to say that
a contract was on its way and that the decision had been made to go with mine first.
MBY: Were you surprised?
RBD: Cautiously surprised…
MBY: And the rest, as they say, is history!
RBD: Well, it was the beginning of a process that eventually led to the publishing of the
book. I had never been through the process before, so I discovered that it is pretty
THE FIRST COPY
MBY: It had to feel almost dream-like, didn’t it, to finally have the first copy of The Happy
Immortals in your hands?
RBD: It really was. It was pretty emotional for me. The publisher had asked for my input all
along the way, including my ideas about different cover concepts and fonts and
illustrations, so it wasn’t a total surprise to finally see it in print. Still, I don’t think anything
could have prepared me for the moment when I finally had the first copy of the book in my
hands. It was pretty special.
MBY: It was a moment that was a half-century in the making.
RBD: It sounds pretty monumental when you say it that way. It doesn’t seem so long when
you are living it, but I guess it was truly a long time from start to finish for the finished book
to finally be there for people to read.
STORYLINES AND BACKGROUNDS
MBY: Let’s go back to the process you went through. One of the things everyone
comments about is your amazing ability to draw people into each setting—the farm, St.
Louis, Okinawa, Amarillo—with such depth and believable description. How do you go from
being a young boy growing up out on the Oklahoma Panhandle with there wasn’t much
foliage, where did all of the incredible mixture of color hues and fragrances and details that
you were able to write throughout the book?
RBD: I was always pretty curious. For as long as I can remember, I have always enjoyed
learning more about life and things around me, no matter where I was or what I was doing. I
was always pretty amazed anytime I saw something for the first time, whether it was a new
plant or a foreign island.
MBY: Was putting these descriptions down on paper something that came naturally even
as a child, or was it something that you learned later
RBD: It was always something that I enjoyed. Probably one of the biggest steps in learning
to write descriptively was when I took creative writing classes in college. It was very intense.
The professors focused on making words come to life, on making even the mundane into
something interesting. They were also good at inspiring students like myself to develop a
message that was bigger than the characters, settings and storyline.
MBY: Is there any specific teacher or professor that stands out in inspiring you to write?
RBD: The first was Mrs. Tucker, who taught at Goodwell High School. She drove to
Goodwell every day from north of Goff Creek, not far from where I grew up. She was
excellent writer and was very encouraging to me. Another one at Oklahoma University was
Professor Foster Harris. He had already written several books, so I really looked up to him
and thoroughly enjoyed his journalism courses.
MBY: You mention Goodwell High School, but you ended up graduating from Guymon High
School. How did that happen?
RBD: I went to the eighth grade at a small school near our home, then started at Goodwell
High School, where I lived with my older brother Cecil and his wife Doris. But after one year
they moved so he could go to work at the Los Alamos atomic plant, so I ended up boarding
with the Quinn family in Guymon so I could finish my high school years there. The Quinns
had been neighbors who lived close to our homestead.
MESSAGES AND READERS
MBY: Speaking of influences...some strong messages about life and relationships and love
come through loud and clear in The Happy Immortals. Obviously that was an outgrowth of
your early writing classes, even dating back to your high school years.
RBD: In some ways it is a pretty serious novel with definite messages about the choices we
make in life and how those choices affect people around us.
MBY: Some would say, since this is a post-World War II novel, that it is targeted to people
who relate to that era. You don’t see it that way at all, do you?
RBD: Maybe they see the market and audience that way because I’m eighty-one now. But
you’ve got to realize that I began writing the book when I was still in my twenties. I think the
message is even more for young people today than it is for people who are Boomers or
older. I believe it has a strong message about the importance of personal responsibility as
we make the biggest decisions in life.
MBY: There are some very romantic scenes—some might even call them steamy—in
places throughout the book, and those scenes seem to lead toward some of Tom’s biggest
decisions. Knowing the outcome and your strong personal beliefs, was that a difficult
decision to write the scenes so powerfully?
RBD: One of the things that often seems to be part of our greatest decisions in life
revolves around the opposite sex. To me, the choices that Tom makes about the three
young women in his life, are central to the story, perhaps even more important than Tom’s
choices about his relationship with his father.
MBY: Tom goes through some incredible choices on his way to becoming the man he was
in the final chapter. Without giving away all of the story to people who may have not read
the book yet, did his life parallel yours in any way?
RBD: I’m sure there’s a lot more of me in Tom than I realize even now, but a lot is based on
so many more things and other people that I had met along the way. One thing I definitely
do share with Tom is his questioning mind, wondering what was important in life.
MBY: How about his relationship with the three young women? Were they based on real
RBD: Somewhat. I was never the type to be with anyone like Jeannie. Tom’s response to
her was probably very typical of most red-blooded young men, and probably the same with
Higa. I wasn’t like that in my own personal life. In fact, I never was involved sexually with any
young woman before I got married to Margie.
MBY: Not even during your army days?
RBD: Nope. I realize that it might be pretty amazing to young people today, but that sort of
thing was very important to me. I grew up realizing that sex was a precious gift, and that
saving myself for the one I wanted to marry was extremely important to me. I’m sure I wasn’t
alone in that sort of decision, but sometimes it seemed that way. Still, my decision as a
teenager kept me from doing things I knew I would regret later, even when a lot of guys
around me were doing what young guys away from home for the first time often do…and
PARALLELS AND DIFFERENCES
MBY: Obviously, in that respect, your life as a young man was quite different from Tom’s
RBD: Still, I think Tom had a lot of good in him. He was just misguided, but I think he
represents what every young man goes through in one way or another as he wades
through the choices we make on our way to maturity.
MBY: How much of your relationship with Margie is in the character of Anna?
RBD: Anna truly represents the idea of true love, and so I’m sure that my ideal that I found
in Margorie is very tied up in the character of Anna. I imagine that my Mother is also in the
character of Anna, as well. My Mother always seemed to be such a model of unselfish love
and giving. I always wanted a wife that was a model of those traits, too, and I definitely got
that kind of a woman in Margie. So I’m sure that Anna symbolizes what I always considered
to be an ideal for women.
MBY: So where did you get the characters for Jeannie and Higa?
RBD: (Laughs) That’s the big question that a lot of people have asked me. I really don’t
know. As I said before, I was never involved with young women like either Jeannie or Higa. I
suppose it came from bits and pieces I picked up from books I read, movies from the
Forties and Fifties, and tales I heard from other guys in the service. Needless to say,
anytime you get a bunch of guys together talking, there are plenty of stories to be told,
some true and most of them probably a lot of fiction. I’m sure both Jeannie and Higa were
born from some of those stories told by guys sitting around during boot camp, on the ship
that took us to the South Pacific or passing time in the Philippines, Okinawa or Japan
during the war.
MBY: How much of Tom’s relationship
with his father Benjamin Bristow
reflects your own relationship with
RBD: Sure, there is a lot of my Dad in
Benjamin. He was the toughest man
I’ve ever known. He and my Mother
raised nine kids out on land that he
homesteaded in the Panhandle. He
ended up with a sizable wheat farm
and ran cattle. He had to be extremely
strong and tough to endure all he
went through in order to survive such
harsh weather and conditions, not to
mention going through two wars, the
Great Depression, the horrible dust
storms of the “Dirty Thirties,” rattlesnakes coming through the walls of their sod dugout,
and so much more. A weaker person would have given up or moved on, but my parents
kept going and raised our family to all be successful in the things we’ve set out to do.
MBY: Those were extremely difficult times. It really was a matter of survival, wasn’t it?
Today if you have problems or run out of food, you can get help. Back then it wasn’t quite
RBD: Definitely. It really was life and death. If you didn’t work hard, the land was awfully
unforgiving. It was a much harsher life than most people today can imagine. That was so
much a part of who my Dad was. In some ways he had to be that way or the land would
have killed him.
MBY: Was he as tough on you as Benjamin was to his son Tom in The Happy Immortals?
RBD: Tougher in some ways. Much better in other ways.
RBD: Benjamin and my Dad were quite different in how they were tough. My Dad was a
very tough disciplinarian. He didn’t put up with much “tom-foolery.” He kept all of us nine
kids working very hard from early until late, which we had to do just to survive. He didn’t put
up with excuses.
MBY: That obviously colored what you put in the book, in terms of Benjamin’s character.
RBD: At the time I wrote this book, I truly felt that my Dad had overdone it on being such a
strict disciplinarian, but my feelings have tempered somewhat since then. For starters, I’ve
raised my own children since then, and that tends to put a different perspective on your
ideas about your parents. Plus, my Dad was never as hard or mean as Benjamin’s
character is in the book.
MBY: The two men seem quite different, from what you say, in the purpose of their
RBD: Oh, yes. Benjamin was determined to force Tom to become a medical doctor, seeing
it as a fulfillment of his own thwarted dreams of becoming a M.D. because of what
happened when he was younger. My Dad, on the other hand, was never like that. He might
have kept our “noses to the grindstone,” as he called it, and we never had much time for
fun and games, but he didn’t try to run our lives after we were adults in the way that
Benjamin tried to direct Tom. Benjamin, in the book, is also so brazen about his authority,
and he is downright mean. My father was neither of those two things.
MBY: You say that your view of your father’s discipline and harshness has changed since
you wrote the book. How has it changed?
RBD: I’m a lot more thankful for what my Dad did, now that I understand that he had to do it
just to survive during those days. And I’m thankful that he was such a strong figure to
partially model Benjamin after. He was loving in his own way and worked harder to provide
for his family than any man ever I’ve known since then.
MBY: Did you ever have any breakthrough-type moments with your Dad that helped you to
understand him better?
RBD: Not in a dramatic sense. We never hugged or
anything like that. But I do remember that when I was
leaving for the service, he took me to the place to catch
the bus, and all he said was, “Always treat everybody
right.” Maybe that doesn’t seem like a breakthrough
moment to other people, but it was his attempt to share
something that meant the world to him—integrity and the
good name of Delano that he had given me—and it came
through as a very special moment for both of us. I still get
emotional thinking about that time as an 18 year old as my
Pop tried to open up in his own way and say “goodbye” to
his youngest son, not knowing if he would ever see me
again. It was his way to let me know that he believed in me
and wanted me to do well in life. We didn’t hug or anything
like that, and I quickly grabbed my bag to step onto the
bus, but that one moment has stuck with me for over sixty
years as very special.
MBY: Let’s talk about your childhood on another level and how it influenced you as a
writer. When your family moved to the Oklahoma Panhandle to homestead land, you
actually lived in a dug-out, right? For people who don’t understand, since there weren’t a
lot of trees around to use for building materials, most of the homesteaders were forced to
literally dig down into the group, then make bricks out of sod, and build what today might
be called a berm house, partly underground and partly aboveground.
RBD: My parents started out that way, and
the first few children were born and lived in
a sod dug-out. I was the seventh child out
of nine, so by the time I came along, my
parents had just built a brand new wooden
house, so I grew up in a more traditional
house. Still, those difficult living conditions
back then had to influence my parents and
their view of how harsh life could be.
MBY: Can you imagine what it was like to
survive the blizzards and prairie
thunderstorms and dirt-storms in these
little sod shanties? And never a moment’s
privacy in these one-room dirt house…
RBD: I heard lots of tales of how it was. Again, thankfully, a lot had changed by the time I
MBY: Even with the improved conditions, you didn’t really have much privacy with so many
brothers and sisters around all the time. How were you able to tap into such an inner,
private place that eventually helped you to become such a wonderful writer? And was it
encouraged by either of your parents?
RBD: Even though we were living in pretty close
quarters, we were all assigned jobs and chores to
do, even when we were very small. That tends to
give you a lot of time alone with your thoughts and
imagination. I was driving a tractor by the time I was
barely able to see over the steering wheel, and
being all by myself on those big fields was always
very conducive to filling my imagination with
everything from the books I had read to my thoughts
about what I would someday become. Just listening
to the drone of the tractor’s engine would drive you
crazy, so I found that making up stories and thinking
about the world “out there” helped make the time go
so much faster.
MBY: What motivated you to continue your
education, even though it eventually meant having
to leave the farm during the school years and live
with other people?
RBD: With nine kids in the family, and
with me being one of the youngest, I
think there was always quite a bit of
competition. I was always trying to stay
up with my brothers and sisters.
Eventually that’s why I went on complete
my high school, then to the military, and
eventually to both Oklahoma A & M
(now Oklahoma State University) and
Oklahoma University. My parents never
did pay for any of our education, but
most of us got degrees and all of us
ended up having nice careers.
Something about growing up like we did
seemed to inspire all of us toward
making something with our lives and
having good marriages and homes.
MBY: Your faith seems very important to you. It comes out in your writing. Is that also a
product of your childhood?
RBD: Faith was very much a part of our lives. Even though he was tough as nails, I
remember seeing my dad kneeling by the benches during the Wednesday night prayer
meeting. My mother spent her whole life sacrificing herself for her children. I remember my
parents going to spend time with families that were sick or needy. Both of them had very
good qualities that have been passed down through the generations. I was very influenced
in my own faith by both of my parents.
MBY: All of those things seem to give The Happy Immortals such a rich texture and fabric
that critics and readers have mentioned. One of the things most good novelists have is the
ability to make things believable. Since that is something so many people like about your
writing, it would be interesting to know which writers influenced you.
RBD: So many it’s hard to pick one or two. I remember reading The Magic Carpet and how
it transported me to faraway places. The Zane Grey books were always great favorites. My
older sister Thelma was always suggesting new books, as did my other brothers and
sisters. Anytime we could go to the library in Guymon, we would come out with as many
books as we could check out, take home, and share among all of us. We were all very
interested in reading and learning about the world far beyond our farm in the Panhandle.
MBY: In addition to writing and reading, what other subjects in school helped influence you
in your writing?
RBD: Geography was always exciting to me. Anything dealing with world events always
interested me. It was always thrilling to hear about where my parents had been. My mother
was originally from Kentucky, so we liked to ask about her parents and the families they
had left behind.
MBY: Isn’t it interesting that so many people who have created books and music and art
have grown up in what others might think of as fairly bleak circumstances. So many great
writers and artists came out of that era from the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma—
who found a way to rise triumphantly beyond their difficult beginnings. Here you were, in
the “Dirty Thirties,” in the midst of the Great Depression, surrounded by a life depicted in
such movies as The Grapes of Wrath, and yet you saw beauty and texture…
RBD: I guess to a lot of people it might have looked bleak with the blowing dirt and hard
work and a pretty harsh life, but it forced us to look inside to find out who we really were, I
suppose. Surviving those years also gave us a solid foundation to dream of what we could
be, knowing that we overcame a lot. I’m not sure any of my brothers and sisters would have
been what we became or done what we did without the discipline and stick-to-it-iveness we
learned on the farm. It became part of what made us want to something special with our
lives. I’m sure of that.
MBY: It certainly seems to be part of the rich hues that you paint in the minds of your
readers, and in the way your words cause all the senses to be affected as they smell the
bouganvilla and hear the rustle of the wind through the ripening wheat or the dankness of
the ancestral caves in Okinawa’s hillsides. How were you able to create such an explosion
of rich sensory scenes when you came from such a Spartan childhood?
RBD: Maybe we just didn’t know that it was so tough at the time. It seemed like everyone
was going through the same things. Our neighbors faced exactly what we faced. And
growing up the Panhandle was anything but bleak. We found a way to have fun, even
during the blizzards and dust storms. I suppose that you decide in those situations that you
are going to make the best of things, no matter what. If you have to drive a tractor for
hours at a time, you just learn to make up stories in your mind. If you have to spend all day
digging post holes, you decide to imagine that you are building a castle. You simply learn
to overcome whatever comes your way, and find a way to do it cheerfully. Those are
probably some of the best lessons I learned during all of my childhood.
MBY: And it is certainly reflected in your writing, even though Tom definitely didn’t have
that kind of character or tenacity, especially at the beginning. Plus, your character of Tom
didn’t have the advantage of a lot of brothers and sisters to help define him as a person.
RBD: No, he didn’t. To me, even though it perhaps greatest sources of strength is the fact that I did have eight other siblings. Although we had
isn’t written into Tom’s character as much, I believe
that I was especially blessed to be part of a big
family. We didn’t have many neighbors, and they
weren’t close in distance, for the most part. So you
had to find a way to get along with your brothers and
sisters, to make up games with them and to develop
MBY: That was certainly not reflected in Tom.
RBD: Maybe that’s part of the great inner sadness
and the cause of his weakness that you see during
most of the book. I’ve never thought about it so
openly as we are right now, but that would probably
be one of the biggest differences between myself
and Tom’s character. He was very alone through so
much of his childhood, and that would have directly
influenced who he became. For me, one of my
our spats, of course, we all benefited wonderfully from being part of such a strong family
unit. It’s something I will always cherish.
MBY: But, as you said, the lack of a family caused such an emptiness in Tom.
RBD: I think so. Plus, I think there’s something about the fact that Tom had so much
handed to him because his father was eventually so well-off. That certainly wasn’t the case
in our family. When you don’t have much, you learn to be original, to create, to be
resourceful. In some ways, for example, I feel sorry for so many young people today who
are surrounded by artificial games and activities that are created for them. They feed off of
someone else’s ideas, instead of having to come up with their own.
MBY: We catch little glimpses of being creative and resourceful in The Happy Immortals
when Tom, in his mid-twenties, re-visits the water pipe, still worn shiny from Tom “skinning
the cat” as a child, or when he climbs to the top of the windmill, a setting which becomes
such an important part of the story toward the end.
RBD: Yes. Those things that you had to create on your own, the games and places where
you could let your imagination flow, they were very important for me as a child. I guess
those things came through in the book because they were such a wonderful part of my
young life. I haven’t really thought about these things at this level, but I suppose it is
interwoven in Tom’s story.
MBY: Jumping ahead, another part of Tom’s story parallels yours somewhat, in that he
served in the military during World War II. Did the discipline and hard work you did as a
child make it easier to make the transition into the military, as opposed, let’s say, to
someone like Tom’s character?
RBD: I think so. It was such a different time. Almost every family in our nation was affected
by the war, in one way or the other. There had been lots of young men from our area who
were killed and injured. It certainly made the idea of going into the military very sobering.
MBY: You knew there was a pretty good chance that you might not return…
RBD: In a sense. Most young people think they are bulletproof, I guess, so I certainly
hoped and planned to return in one piece. Still, I knew that we were losing a lot of young
soldiers throughout the war, and that the worse was still yet to come. You just didn’t let
yourself think about it. You did what you thought was right. We had been attacked, and we
were pretty determined as a country that we had no choice but to be victorious.
MBY: You joined the service at age eighteen, right?
RBD: Right. It was 1944, and it was looking like the war was going to end before I could get
in. Two of my older brothers, Fred and Dale, were in the service. So were cousins and
neighbor boys. I was the last of six sons, so my father got me a one-year deferment, but I
couldn't wait. I was caught up in the war fervor that gripped the whole world and couldn't
wait to go into Guymon from our farm to volunteer for the service. I did exactly that when I
turned eighteen. After three months of basic training at Camp Wolters, Texas, and two
days at home for Christmas, I was sent by train to Ford Ord, California. After a few days
there, I boarded the USS General Butner for parts unknown.
MBY: What was it like when you received orders to ship out for the South Pacific?
RBD: I remember the train ride going from Camp Wolters in the Fort Worth area, and we
headed west. When we arrived in San Francisco, the train pulled right up beside the boat
dock there in the bay. It was quite a sight for a boy from Oklahoma. And we went right from
the train onto the ship.
MBY: Knowing that you were heading for very hot action in the South Pacific had to be
RBD: As we sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge to leave the shores of America, I was up
on the deck. I remember the lump in my throat that seemed like a chunk of hard coal. I was
truly overcome with emotions. I didn’t let anyone around me see what I was feeling inside,
of course, but it was an awfully big thing to realize what could happen to me and to all the
soldiers onboard. I had read about the incredibly high numbers of casualties on the islands.
MBY: Was it fear that you were feeling, or resolve, or…?
RBD: Truthfully, I think I was feeling all of those things, but the one thing I remember most
was how I was more determined than ever to trust in God to be with me, no matter what
happened. Those moments, and the things we faced soon afterward, built my faith in God.
MBY: No atheists in foxholes, right?
RBD: I’m not sure, but I do know that I realized real quick that I either had to trust God
completely or I didn’t have a chance of surviving what was to come.
MBY: Still, there had to be a lot of doubt.
RBD: It’s the unknown that looms so large, but when you are faced with it, you either
control the fear of the unknown, or it will control you. I realized, during those times, that I
really did have a strong faith, probably more than I had ever comprehended before.
MBY: Again, something that started in your childhood…
RBD: Yes, but at some point you have to make it your own. You have to develop your own
relationship with God and accept Jesus Christ into your life. You know the old saying, “God
doesn’t have grandchildren.” It was during that time in my life, as we sailed to the South
Pacific, that my personal relationship with the Lord became more real than ever before. I
just felt that God would take care of me, and I decided that I had to trust Him. I think I came
to grips with the fact that if it was my time to go in some island jungle, I was ready.
MBY: You had a lot of time for introspection. How long were you on the ship?
RBD: It took thirty days to cross the Pacific Ocean. We could see many other troop ships
on every side. Finally we docked at Finch Haven, New Guinea, for one day. Funny, but the
one thing I remember most (as did most of the other soldiers on-board, I'm sure) was a
native woman who stood in the water less than 100 feet from our ship. She was wearing
nothing above the waist, held a spear and kept stabbing at fish, oblivious to thousands of
young men far away from home gawking at her, myself included. Then a few days later we
landed at Tacloban, Leyte, in the Philippine Islands. It was February 1945. The greatest
naval battle of the Pacific war had just ended, and the hulls of partly sunken ships jutted
out of the bay everywhere. We went ashore in landing craft, then a few days later we
boarded another ship and sailed over to Manila. There, we skirted the rubble of the
bombed-out city on our way to a replacement camp
MBY: You were thrown into the fight fairly quickly, right?
RBD: I was issued a rifle and hunting knife, then sent about 80
miles south to the jungle encampment of the 187th Infantry
Regiment of the 11th Airborne. This was the storied regiment
that fought in Leyte in the bloody battle of Purple Heart Hill
during the invasion of the Philippines. Then in January of 1945,
just before I arrived, the 187th had landed south of Manila on
Nasubu Bay, blocking Japanese forces as part of the advance
on Manila from the south. Company G, the one I joined, had
only 12 men left out of a company that normally had 120 men.
Ten of those remaining were killed the first night after I arrived.
A tree bomb exploded while they were on patrol on a nearby mountain.
MBY: That had to be incredulous—to be joining a company that had been hit so hard, then
to see such devastation.
RBD: It was. I remember the first night that my buddies and I who had just joined the
company were left behind to guard the perimeter of the pup-tent camp. We were told in no
uncertain terms by the few veteran soldiers that the Japanese might attack, since our Air
Force was bombing the mountains to flush the Japanese soldiers out of their hide-outs up
there. As that first night fell and we started our guard-duty rounds, there was an eerie glow
from the mountain-top fires as the bombs fell. I felt such an unspeakable fear settling in all
around me. The farm on the Oklahoma plains and my family I had left only five months
before seemed like blurry scenes from another life that I would never know again. Palm
branches would drop occasionally for no apparent reason. I kept imagining that the enemy
was crashing through the underbrush. The jungle darkness was like a shroud. After a few
hours, a shot rang out. I thought, “This is it!” Actually, one of our guards had fired a round
accidentally, hitting the arm of one of our own guards. Other than rampant fear and the
arm injury, our first night ended without incident for those of us who had been left behind at
MBY: Quite a first night!
RBD: It got pretty hot from then on. From then until April, the 187th fought our way from
Nichols Field to Fort McKinley, Manila, Mount Macolod and Malepunyo. I had always heard
the phrase, “War is hell.” I agree. It was definitely the worst of times. I have tried again and
again to forget all the things I experienced during those days.
MBY: You had to know by then that we were planning to invade Japan.
RBD: Bit by bit, we knew we were going in. In May, we moved to Lipa to refit, rebuild and
prepare for the expected invasion of Japan. Jump training facilities were built at the Lipa
airstrip, and we were given the option of becoming paratroopers, glidermen or transferring
to an infantry division still in combat in Luzon. Most of us, myself included, opted for the
jump training because it paid $50 a month extra—a huge amount of money for a kid from
BEGINNING OF THE END
MBY: What were you going through, inwardly, as you got ready for what would probably be
the worst fighting of the war?
RBD: Well, by August, we completed our jump training and were ready to be dropped in an
invasion of a northern island of Japan. We had been told that it would be a fight to the end,
and that casualties on both sides would extremely heavy. We waited, knowing that few of
us would probably make it home. Still, we knew what we had to do, and we were willing to
do it for the cause of freedom.
MBY: But what happened next changed the world forever, didn’t it?
MBY: History has painted a clear picture of what happened. On August 6, 1945, the B-29
Enola Gay, piloted and commanded by 509th Composite Group commander Colonel Paul
Tibbets, was launched from North Field, an airbase on Tinian in the West Pacific,
approximately 6 hours flight time away from Japan. At 08:15 (Hiroshima time), the Enola
Gay dropped the nuclear bomb called “Little Boy” over the center of Hiroshima. Three days
later, our Air Force dropped a plutonium implosion-type device, code-named “Fat Man,” on
the city of Nagasaki. The use of these weapons resulted in the immediate deaths of around
100,000 to 200,000 people. As history was being made in the air and on the ground in
Japan, what were you going through personally?
RBD: I remember it was a peaceful Sunday afternoon in our camp when the news came
trickling in. Some of the guys heard it on the radio. The walkways between our tents came
alive with excited troopers as the news sank in. Men jumped from their tents and headed
for Lipa to celebrate, whooping and hollering! We started a big bonfire and burned the
cold-weather gear that had been issued for the parachute drop into Japan! Sadly, several
of the soldiers died that night from poison coconut whiskey they got in Lipa.
MBY: The war was effectively over the moment “Little Boy” hit Japanese soil, yet it took a
while for the official ending to occur. What did this mean for you?
RBD: The 187th was flown to Okinawa, which is where I got a lot of background for part of
The Happy Immortals. We waited there in pup tents for three weeks for the peace treaty to
be signed, which finally happened aboard the battleship USS Missouri. Then we became
the first foreign ground combat unit to enter the surrendered country. I remember seeing
Mt. Fujiyama from my plane window just before we landed at Atsugi Naval Air Base, 20
miles west of Yokohama. It was such an eerie feeling after all that happened during the
years leading up to that time.
MBY: What did you expect to experience when you landed?
RBD: We really had no idea exactly what we would encounter, whether we would wind up
having to fight them to the last man standing, or what? We were extremely grateful that we
met no resistance. The propellers had been removed from the Japanese planes and their
Ford trucks that burned charcoal were all parked neatly. As we marched through the
villages, the Japanese people looked so somber. Many of them bowed to us.
MBY: Those memories seem as vivid now as when
they first happened.
RBD: Some things you simply never forget. Looking
back now at age 81, I see that my survival came
through nothing special on my part, but resulted
from my faith and God's providential plans for me. I
know I was spared from what would have been an
impossible situation had we been dropped into that
country and had to fight to the finish.
MBY: With all that in your background, and with so
much of your life woven into Tom Bristow’s character
in The Happy Immortals, it must be incredible to
know that you experienced one of the most historic
periods in history. Is that perhaps one of the
reasons that your book is so laced with Tom’s
experiences in Okinawa?
RBD: I suppose. I know the writing instructors always urged us to write about things that we
knew. What I went through during World War II was permanently imprinted in my mind and
heart, so it was bound to come through loud and clear in whatever I ended up writing.
MBY: After a half-century, The Happy Immortals is now being read by a wider and wider
audience. For years, you were the main person who believed in the story…
RBD: …or even knew about it! It’s very humbling. It’s very gratifying, because I always felt
that it was a story worth telling and reading. I kept hoping against hope that someday it
would make its way from a shelf in my office to bookstore shelves everywhere. It’s also a bit
overwhelming. I had almost given up hope that it would ever see the light of day. Almost.
MBY: What’s next? Will there be a sequel?
RBD: I’m still dealing with the fact that this first book has been published and is being read
by so many people who say such nice things about it. I’ve used the word “overwhelming”
before, and I honestly don’t know another word that fits the situation more accurately. Still,
to answer your question, more and more people have asked about a sequel, including my
publisher. Frankly, I’m not sure I have another book inside me. I’ve started getting some
ideas, though, about what could happen to Tom and some of the other main characters. I
think there could be quite a story if I’m able to put it together. But you have to remember
that I’m 81 now. I don’t have another 50 years for the process to happen all over again. If
there is a sequel, it will have to happen much faster! (laughs)
We can hope! In the
meantime, the novelist, now
being heralded as an exciting
“new” author, continues to
reside in Oklahoma City with
Margie, his beautiful wife of
nearly sixty years.
His children—son Don and
wife Ann, daughter Nancy, son
David and wife Sharalee—and
all seven grandchildren live
As the author of a successful novel gaining worldwide
attention, a book published after collecting dust for over 50
years, Robert Boyd Delano remains one of he most contented,
loving, peaceful and senatorially-handsome men you will ever
hope to meet, not unlike what one could easily imagine how
Tom Bristow, the main character in The Happy Immortals, might
have ended up himself!
The intriguing storyline has captured the attention
of readers and critics alike—a book written over
50 years ago suddenly bursts onto the literary
scene as the retired Oklahoma City business-man
becomes a heralded “new” novelist.
The book itself is superb, especially for a first-
time novelist. Discussions are already underway
to transform the Oklahoma Panhandle-based story
of Tom Bristow into a major motion picture. Yet,
the story-behind-the-story remains as intriguing
as the novel itself.
ROBERT BOYD DELANO
...An Octogenarian "New" Novelist Emerges to Critical Acclaim
|The Delano Family, Oklahoma Panhandle (1936)
(Top Row Left to Right) Clyde, Fred
(Third Row) Dale, Thelma, Robert Boyd
(Second Row) Cecil, Chance, Eula, Merle
(Front Row) Darlene, Lyla
|The 81 year old author and a Oklahoma
City recreation of the "soddy" house
in which the Delano family lived
|Wedding Day for
J. C. "Chance"and Eula Delano
|J. C. and Eula Delano Celebrate Their
Golden Wedding Anniversary
|Robert Boyd and Margie
and feature for
by bestselling author