10 Long-Lasting Lessons from My First Ghostwriting Project


My first ghostwriting project wasn’t a simple business book or an autobiography of a celebrity. It was much more personal and significant. It was about my grandfather, a World War II veteran, and a man described by many in our family as gruff and standoffish. This project opened my eyes to a part of family history that I had been unaware of, a tale of bravery, survival, and the true cost of our freedoms.

As I delved into the research, interviewed my grandfather, and read through his journal, I was stunned by the depth of his experiences. Beneath the crusty exterior was a man who had stared down death and emerged victorious. His journey was full of indomitable courage, astonishing resilience, and unyielding commitment.

I gained a newfound respect for him, not just as my grandfather but as a hero who endured unimaginable hardships for the freedoms we enjoy today. This was the story I was tasked with writing, my “first ghostwriting project”, that brought me face to face with the profound truth of our human capacity to endure, survive, and thrive in the face of adversity. It was an honor to tell his story, and in doing so, I learned more about my roots, my identity, and the precious value of freedom.

The Enigmatic Family Chef

The family had always said to steer clear of my grandfather. He was the curmudgeonly old man who seemed perpetually dissatisfied with the world around him. Yet, at every family gathering, he was the one entrusted with the culinary duties. With a paradoxical tenderness, he would prepare meals that would have us all licking our plates clean. The twinkle in his eyes as he served his dishes was a stark contrast to his otherwise surly demeanor.

The Spark of Curiosity

As a 17-year-old, my interest was piqued. Here was a man who was an enigma wrapped in a riddle, and I was intrigued to uncover his story. Despite the warnings, I felt a pull, a desire to connect with him. There was something about his silent strength, his distant gaze, that made me believe there was more to him than met the eye.

Unearthing the Past

In an attempt to uncover his past, I approached him for an interview. To my surprise, he agreed. Reading through his journals, I discovered a narrative full of courage, resilience, and survival. It was an account that took me back to the horrific days of World War II, giving me a firsthand glimpse into the trials he endured.

An Unforeseen Voyage

Before the war, my grandfather was a ships’ cook in the U.S. Navy, stationed on the Yangtze River Patrol based in Shanghai, China. In November 1941, a surprise order came, commanding all U.S. Navy ships and personnel to evacuate Shanghai. The destination was kept a secret from everyone except the captain, sparking speculation among the crew. As they speculated about a possible journey to Australia, destiny had a different plan. They ended up in Manila, Philippine Islands.

Bracing the Frontline

From December 8, 1941, to May 6, 1942, the Imperial Japanese Army found themselves held back in the Philippines by the brave defenders of Bataan and Corregidor. For 187 days and nights, the Japanese Army and Air Force relentlessly bombed and shelled Bataan and Corregidor. The forces, plagued with starvation, malaria, dysentery, with scarce medical supplies, resisted. They stood tall against the superior numbers of the battle-hardened Japanese Army soldiers. The Bataan forces eventually succumbed and surrendered, leaving Corregidor to hold out for another month.

Leaving China

The crew, after quarters were dismissed, jumped to their tasks. In haste, fires were started in all the boilers. Swiftly, messengers were dispatched to the American Consul for mail and other matters. As steam rose, a unique sight caught their attention: a beautiful white horse was approaching the gunboat, U.S.S. Oahu. It turned out that the head of the American Consul wished to transport his horse. The captain, however, denied the unusual request, stating that only naval personnel, American families, mail, and personal baggage were permitted on board.

The Journey Begins

With all stores and personnel aboard, including two Italian radio operators as a courtesy, the ship was ready to leave. Sea Detail was piped by the ship’s boatswain and all men not required for getting underway went to their quarters. Amidst whistles and farewells shouted from the docks, the trim white gunboat steamed into the middle of the stream. The anchor was dropped, preparing to turn the ship around for its first port of call.

The Yangtze River Voyage

The ship’s mission was to pick up American nationals, Naval personnel, mail, and baggage all along the muddy Yangtze River. At Wuhu, China, they dropped off food supplies and medical supplies to American missionaries. Despite the looming threat of war, the missionaries had decided to stay. Unfortunately, this would be the last time they would see them again. The next stop was Nanking, China, held by the Japanese under a harsh commander. Here, they evacuated any American nationals, mail, and baggage.

A Moment of Respite

Arriving in Shanghai around November 25, 1941, they reported to the Commander of the Yangtze River Patrol. Half of the crew, some of whom had families in port, was allowed to go on liberty. Simultaneously, British workmen and Chinese shipyard employees came aboard to prepare the ship for its next journey to a neutral port, believed to be Manila, Philippines.

The magnitude of the danger they were facing had not dawned upon them yet. The following days would put to test their courage, resilience, and indomitable spirit. This journey, unexpected and fraught with danger, was just the beginning of the extraordinary story of my grandfather’s survival during World War II.


Grandfather the subject of my first ghostwriting projectAs the Japanese Army prepared for their assault on Corregidor, defensive measures were reinforced. The anticipated invasion arrived under the cover of darkness on May 5, 1942. Despite a fierce initial resistance, the Japanese managed to land, losing all but 18 of approximately 2,000 soldiers. With each successful landing, green rocket lights pierced the night, signaling for additional reinforcements. Tanks, surprisingly, scaled the steep slopes of Corregidor, capturing the main road and pressing towards the American-held tunnels. A final surrender order was reluctantly obeyed at noon on May 6, 1942, signaling an end to the resistance on Corregidor.

A sobering 15,800 individuals surrendered, roughly 12,000 of them military personnel, the remainder civilians. These prisoners were marched to the 92nd garage, known as the “Flats,” where conditions were grim. Water and food were scarce, leading to a desperation-fueled barter system within the camp. Japanese propaganda circulated, alleging American officers were living comfortably, stirring resentment among the rank-and-file. In the midst of these dire conditions, the Japanese arrived at Fort Hughes on the evening of May 6, taking control and leaving the defenders huddled on the ground overnight, awaiting their fate.

A Prisoner of War

Bataan death march

As the previous text shows, my grandfather, a steadfast beacon of strength and survival, bore witness to the unimaginable horrors of World War II. As a participant in the infamous Bataan Death March, he was forcibly made to traverse the harrowing landscape of the Philippines in an unfathomable demonstration of brutality and disregard for human life. His spirit, however, remained unbroken, even when faced with the imminent specter of death that loomed over each day’s grueling march.

His ordeal didn’t end with the Death March. He was detained for a staggering 42 months in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. The bleak reality of his confinement was punctuated by incessant hunger, rampant disease, and the consistent menace of violence from his captors. Despite these atrocities, he held steadfast, his spirit borne of resilience and the instinct to survive.

One of the most chilling chapters of his narrative revolved around the “Tatori Maru” or what is commonly known as a Hell Ship. These ships were used by the Japanese army to transport Allied POWs, often in dire, inhumane conditions. Crammed into the ship’s dank and suffocating hold, the prisoners endured weeks of suffering, all the while succumbing to an array of deadly diseases that swept through the imprisoned population. It was a testament to his unyielding spirit that he survived this gruesome voyage, an episode of his life he would recount with a somber sense of triumph.

Then there were the boxcars. With a grimace, he’d recount the stifling, suffocating boxcar journeys. In sweltering heat that frequently rose above 100 degrees, around a hundred men were crammed into each car, their bodies crushed together in a grim parody of human cargo. The lack of ventilation, the unbearable heat, and the cruel scarcity of water painted a vivid, heart-wrenching image of the harsh realities of war.

My grandfather’s narrative wasn’t just a tale of survival; it was a testament to the indomitable spirit of humanity in the face of horrific adversity. His experience painted a vivid picture of the brutality of war, a tale that forever serves as a stark reminder of the human cost of global conflict. His strength and resilience have been a source of inspiration for our family, instilling in us a profound respect for the courage and tenacity that our forebears demonstrated in the most challenging of circumstances.

A Grandfather’s Legacy: My First Ghostwriting Project

In an effort to honor my grandfather’s legacy, I decided to transform his experiences into a book. This was my first ghostwriting project. As I worked on the book, I began to understand the depth of my grandfather’s strength and the true cost of the freedoms we enjoy today.

The Experience of Writing a Ghostwriting Project

Diving into my first ghostwriting project, I found myself engrossed in the process. Transcribing the stories from my grandfather’s journals, interpreting the sentiments behind his words, and turning them into a compelling narrative was an enlightening journey. It taught me the real essence of ghostwriting – being the vessel for another’s voice, especially when that voice had endured so much and had such an important story to tell. I found myself deeply connected to his experiences, feeling the emotions he might have felt, and sharing the resilience and bravery he had shown.

Unearthing the Human Spirit

One of the most significant lessons I learned while working on my first ghostwriting project was about the indomitable spirit of human beings. The stories of my grandfather’s survival in the harsh conditions of a Japanese prisoner camp were incredibly moving. They spoke of the strength of the human spirit and the will to live, even in the face of such adversity. My grandfather’s experiences served as a stark reminder of how valuable freedom is, and the immense sacrifices that have been made by countless individuals to ensure that we enjoy those freedoms.

Ghostwriting: A Bridge to Understanding

Being a ghostwriter, especially for a project so close to my heart, meant becoming a bridge between the past and the present, between a war hero’s experiences and the reader’s understanding. It made me appreciate the power of storytelling, how it can preserve history, educate people, and create empathy. It was a remarkable experience that highlighted the importance of preserving such first-hand accounts of history for future generations.

The Ghostwriting Process: Learning and Growing

The process of ghostwriting also taught me more about myself as a writer. It was an exercise in patience, diligence, and meticulousness, demanding a careful interpretation of my grandfather’s words, experiences, and emotions. Moreover, it was about respect – respect for his experiences, his emotions, and his voice. It was a journey of growth that honed my skills as a writer and as a listener.

The Outcome: A Renewed Perspective

Upon the completion of my first ghostwriting project, my perception of my grandfather and the freedom we often take for granted underwent a significant transformation. I saw my grandfather not just as a gruff, elderly man, but as a war hero who had faced unimaginable hardships for the sake of our country’s freedom. It reiterated the importance of freedom and the courage it takes to fight for it.

Conclusion: The Impact of My First Ghostwriting Project

My first ghostwriting project was a journey of discovery and learning, both professionally and personally. It was about understanding the importance of preserving and sharing stories, the value of freedom, and the sacrifices made by many for it. This project instilled in me a renewed respect for those who have fought and will continue to fight for our freedoms, a sentiment that will forever be etched in my heart. It’s been an honor to be a part of this project, and I look forward to future endeavors that allow me to tell such important stories.

The journey of writing my grandfather’s story, my first ghostwriting project, was an eye-opening experience. It was a reminder of the importance of freedom and the sacrifices made by countless individuals like my grandfather for the liberty we have today. It renewed my respect for those who have fought and continue to fight for our freedoms.

Richard Lowe

1 thought on “10 Long-Lasting Lessons from My First Ghostwriting Project

  1. Royce Reply

    Such a moving story, Richard! You not only learned about sacrifice from an incredible man, but also began a journey you’re STILL on!
    Great read!

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