Reading Between the Lines


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Karen Alaniz  began to read between the lines nine years ago, after her father, Murray Fisher, showed her letters he had written to his parents while serving as a naval radio messenger during World War II.

Alaniz says the details in those letters showed a war much different from the one her father told her about when she was growing up.

“He made it sound like Boy Scout camp,” Alaniz says. “It turns out that was just an abbreviated part of the story. It wasn’t the whole story.”

Murray’s adult daughter asked questions, pulling episodes from a man of eighty who kept insisting that no one cared about an old man’s story that happened long ago.

The result is  BREAKING THE CODE,  a collaborative daughter and father memoir, a journey of a daughter unlocking the repressed secrets of Murray Fisher, who as a young railroad telegraph messenger from Walla Walla, Washington, became the Navy’s top-secret code breaker.

I asked Alaniz why, after sixty years, her father suddenly plopped those letters in her lap.

“My mom thinks he had Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder triggered by 9-11, because after that he started having nightmares and flashbacks.”

BREAKING THE CODE reveals Murray’s great loss during the war, a story Fisher never told his daughter as a child that haunts the veteran to this day, at age 90.

As she wrote down the stories  and shared the letters with friends, Alaniz discovered similarities between her father and vets of today’s wars.

“A woman whose husband served in Iraq read the letters and said, “That’s my husband.”

(When I returned to the news room after interviewing Alaniz, a co-worker said the same thing about one of his relatives. “We knew he had been shot down, but he never told us about the five days he crawled wounded in the forest, and the six months in a POW camp.”)

That may be the take away of BREAKING THE CODE. “We all have someone  in family with a story and we say we’re going to write it down, record it, do something with it before times runs out.  I encourage people to get their stories written down, get them out there.  Tell them before it’s too late.”

Alaniz invites veterans to her website, where they can share their stories.

And now, sixty years on, Alaniz says her father, now 90, is still amazed that anyone would care about an old man’s story, a story that happened long ago.

Alaniz and her father are scheduled to appear tomorrow morning on NPR’s Weekend Edition.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Reading Between the Lines

  1. That’s quite a compliment. Thank you, Lenora!

  2. I pre-ordered the book from Amazon.com; it came a few days ago. I sat on the sofa and read it cover to cover! It is a marvelous book, well written, and one of the best memoir I’ve ever read.

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