Pastor's book retraces steps of POW father

DOWNEY ‚àí If you ask Pastor Candie Blankman to describe her father she'll be quick to tell you he was the opposite of everything he experienced in World War II."He was a very simple and kind man, always helping people," said Blankman. "He could be a little cut and dry and militaristic at times, but he was a fun guy with a child-like faith and love of life." The traits seem remarkable considering Blankman's father, Kenneth Davis, served as a prisoner of war for three and a half years during WWII, surviving the Bataan Death March, two POW camps in the Philippine Islands, the Hellship Noto Maru, and a year of forced labor inside a copper mine in Honshu Island, Japan. "My dad walked up and down a mountain at just 85 pounds," said Blankman. "He was sent to the camp's medical ward twice because he was so weak. He almost died." Nearly 20 years after beginning a biographical account of her father's heroic story as a POW, Blankman, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Downey, has completed a book, which not only details her father's journey, but how it ultimately shaped her own life. Blankman first considered the literary project, entitled 'Forged By War: A Daughter Shaped by a WWII POW Story' in 1988 when as an American History teacher she invited her father to speak to her class about his time in the war. "As a whole, Dad didn't really talk about it. Actually, I never really heard him talking about it," said Blankman who was shocked to learn of her father's harrowing experience. "I just stood in the back of the room and cried…I realized my dad is this history." Determined to save her father's memories, Blankman began asking him about his experiences as a POW and writing them down. Blankman originally planned to publish a small 20 page book of her father's experiences with some historical context researched by her husband Drew, but it wasn't until 1999 after attending seminary and mothering three children that Blankman decided to go forward with the project. When her father died in 2006 following a long struggle with Alzheimer's disease, Blankman felt compelled to retrace her father's footsteps as a prisoner of war and include the journey in the book. Blankman decided to step away from ministry for three months after receiving a grant for pastors through the Lilly Institute for Pastor Sabbaticals. In preparation, however, Blankman started drawing and painting portraits of her father to express her feelings concerning his service and sacrifice. "I wanted a new way to engage with my hands and heart," she said. During her trip through Southeast Asia, Blankman maintained an online blog entitled "Where in the World is Pastor Blankman?" that chronicled her thoughts and reflections while surveying her father's past. "After my first steps in Manilla, I thought, 'these are the streets my dad had walked on and the place he was held as a prisoner, '" said Blankman who visited the former prison site, which is now a school. "I walked on the school ground and thought about the sounds of children compared to what was here before." Blankman believes it was sheer determination to not let the other side win, his faith and a sense of humor that helped her father survive one of the deadliest POW camps during WWII. "The Japanese soldiers were enamored with Hollywood stars so the POWs would give them celebrity names like Mickey Mouse and Daffy Duck," said Blankman with a laugh. Soon after the trip, several people encouraged Blankman to publish her experiences. Blankman, who normally doesn't like talking about herself, felt the book encouraged her to open up. "I never realized how much my dad had influenced me personally and professionally," said Blankman. "I was his second son ‚àí I was always with my dad. His imprint on my life was quite remarkable. "Every family has a story. If you don't tell it, it might get lost. I hope people will be inspired to tell and cherish their own story. Take time to learn about it. You don't have to be famous to have influence," she said. In addition to her new book, Blankman now hosts her own presentation and exhibit made up of her paintings and storyboards of her father's experience as a WWII POW. "It touches people. The history comes alive," Blankman said. "I was inspired by my dad who was simple. The book inspires others to tell their stories and treasure their story." Blankman said many people who hear her presentation are inspired to talk to their grandparents and learn their history. "The Greatest Generation is not just a cute euphemism, these men and women worked their butts off and most are reticent to be called heroes," said Blankman. "This country was shaped by these people. They still feel a little forgotten. I want to keep the history alive." Blankman will host a book signing party this Saturday, Jan. 21 at Mambo Grill, located at 11018 Downey Ave., from 5-8 p.m. The first 10 attendees will receive a free book.

********** Published: January 19, 2012 - Volume 10 - Issue 40