Angels Along for the Ride
Author Interview with J.D. Kamps, The Foxhole Angel
By Lisa M. Hendey
Do angels, war, religious debate and emotionally charged young men mix? In The Foxhole Angel by J.D. Kamps they combine to an effect that is both thought provoking and gripping – fiction that will keep you both entertained and pondering important faith issues.
Joe Kamps and his wife Julie are the parents of six children, ranging in age from thirty to 13. Kamps, a cradle Catholic, admits to at times questioning his own commitment to his faith.
“Although I am a cradle Catholic, I initially submitted to my ongoing conversion at approximately age 24. The mass was especially boring to me growing up - I secretly envied the clever people who came in late or snuck out the door during communion,” shares Kamps. “After my conversion, it was night and day; the mass became a living, breathing organism to me, settling into the center of my faith as my understanding of its mysteries grew. My newfound beliefs added richness to my life I hadn't known before, so I was content. I was rudely shocked in my discovery that God wasn't done with me yet - there was, and is, so much more to learn. Before my conversion, I was proud of my Catholicism, much as one would be proud of his ethnic heritage or political affiliation. However, pride has no place in Christianity, as God keeps beating into my head. That pride was taken away from me. I came to experience a sense of purpose in my chosen faith, but also a sense of sadness as I realize its responsibilities and the anger it invokes in so many.”
The Foxhole Angel is inspired largely by the wartime experiences of Kamps’ own father, who served in World War II. The book is a combination of many soldiers’ actual experiences and “a little journalistic license”. Not typically a reader of this type of fiction, I was surprised by how involved I quickly became in the characters of the novel and their interplay. Kamps’ inclusion of the men’s guardian angels is a natural fit to me – don’t our own daily lives point to multiple instances of the intervention of the divine? My own life certainly provides me ample certitude on this fact.
In order to prepare to write his book, Kamps relied upon his own personal interest in Church history coupled with inspiration from a series of homilies by his pastor, Father William Gould. “ I had all kinds of help for The Foxhole Angel," states Kamps. “I read lots of books and cruised the internet with abandon, but nothing beat talking to its participants. Both Dad and Dutch Wilhelm, a twice-decorated rifle company hero from the Battle of the Bulge, were of invaluable assistance.”
I had the opportunity to interview Joe Kamps and am pleased to share his thoughts on his book, his own faith, and, of course, the angels.
Q: Please briefly summarize the plot of your book.
A: The story revolves around WWII draftee Jimmy Donovan, a likable, devout, married Irish Catholic and father-to-be. His private hatred of Protestants comes from his Catholic pride and a childhood clash with the KKK. He and Pete Calvert, his charismatic but bigoted southern friend, are shipped into the hell of D-Day + 1, the Battle of the Bulge, and wherever else his country needed him to fight. Joining them in these assignments are their guardian angels, whose purpose is to jealously guard their charges through all appointed times. Jimmy, who wouldn't hurt a fly, surprisingly exhibits an aptitude for killing. Pete Calvert, whose proficiency exceeds his friend's, originally volunteers for the army with an itchy trigger finger, anxious to blow the hated Nazis to "Hell and beyond." Pete despises the Germans, but not so much as he loathes fellow infantryman Will Jackson, a hard working, staunchly moral, highly educated French-African whose skin tone enrages the Southerner. These soldiers' angels protect them through all manners of peril to fight another day, it seems -- but in reality, God has further plans for these soldiers.
Q: What is the message you would hope to spread through The Foxhole Angel?
A: Each person on this earth is of equal importance to God - He loves us -- our love for Him is shown by our compassion for others. Life is hard and we need to be reminded of this maxim. The Lord is tough at times; tougher'n all heck, but sometimes I'm tough on my children, too. I love them more than I love my own life - I can't even fathom how much more God loves us and how he looks after everyone on the planet. This is the path each one of us needs to follow in order to find true happiness, and in order to love, we must attempt first to understand.
God doesn't allow us to hide from ourselves, either. Not forever, anyway. All of us find places to hide from God, even though most of us are willing to follow God -- up to a point. In other words, we will seek after him if as parents, it doesn't interfere with what we want to give to our children, or if in our business lives, it doesn't come between us and what we want to earn, or as pastors, if it doesn't affect the happiness of our congregations. Sooner or later we will confront what is ugly and false in our lives -- either in this world, or the next.
Q: Let's talk about Guardian Angels for a moment - how did the angels become such a central part of the message of your story? Why is their presence in the story so important?
A: Oh boy, where do I start? First of all, I'm a big believer in angels. We all run into them from time to time without knowing it, and when one sees an angel, one sees the Almighty. Angels among us remind us that God is among us, and the thought of individual angels ministering to each of us effectively drives that point home - I mean, after all... who sent 'em to begin with!? One other thought: in most books and films the afterlife is depicted as a step down from this life. When someone dies we claim piously at funerals that "he's in a better place" but we sure don't pursue Heaven like we believe in it. During WWII a soldier thought of it often. Sixty million people died in that conflict; too many of its victims were so very young. Were their lives wasted? Were they cheated by the Almighty? Of course not. The best is yet to come! They become angels themselves and are filled with purpose and power. What could be better? We should only mourn the dead by missing them, not mourn them as though something terrible has happened to them.
Q: Did you make a conscious decision to make their human emotions so tangible?
A: Yes. In order to make heaven appealing to people, they must have the idea of purpose and enjoyment of that purpose. That's why the angels smile - even when they shouldn't. I don't see Heaven as a dreary existence.
Q: Please say a few words about the gripping scene between Jimmy and Martin - I found the dialogue in that chapter to be both very interesting and very tension filled.
Christians can get carried away by doctrine. We want so badly to be right - to be uniquely right - that kindness takes a back seat to our competitive natures. I have seen too many instances of God-fearing people discussing Him, then arguing about Him, and finally cursing the other person. Done it myself. We need to love for the sake of God. We can't allow ourselves to lose sight of that directive. In reading about medieval Catholicism and the Reformation, I think that's exactly what happened. We needed reform in the worst way and should have listened to Luther and his fellow reformers; it was so sinful not to. Vatican II is a stark reminder of our lack of charity in that era, as six of seven Augsburg Confession demands were finally met in the 1960s. We must remember though, the reformers needed us as much as we needed them. They had their shortcomings, too. I must say that Luther was no saint himself; he passionately hated Jews, he called for the deaths of scores of the oppressed and downtrodden, and had a well-earned reputation for religious intolerance. Sadly, both sides seemed to put Christ on the back burner, I'm afraid, for the sake of power and / or ego. Jimmy's and Martin's conversation was a re-enactment of that time. It was also God's repair for it.
Q: How does your personal faith reconcile with the version of the afterlife you portray in this book?
Father John Legerski, former pastor of St. George's, was another huge influence. It is his desire for the world to be saved -- spend a few minutes with him and it will quickly become evident he sees each one of his spiritual children as an important individual. I have six children of my own, and as you can guess, all of them are of the utmost importance to me. How much more God loves us! We are His progeny, and dysfunctional of a family as we are, He will never forsake any of us.
Although the Catholic Church certainly has no lock on Jesus, our church is where His message of Salvation originated. If we truly see this we need to lead Christianity in love of God and in charitable understanding of one another.
Q: How can readers who are interested in this book obtain a copy of the book?
The Foxhole Angel may be purchased at any Spokane area Hastings, Auntie's bookstore, or Kaufers in Spokane. Our website, www.thefoxholeangel.com, will be up and running within a few weeks. Amazon.com should have it available within a few weeks, as well. For right now, mail orders are through www.auntiesbooks.com
Lisa M. Hendey is a mother of two sons, webmaster of numerous web sites, including http://www.catholicmom.com and http://www.christiancoloring.com, and an avid reader of Catholic literature. Visit her at http://www.lisahendey.com for more information.