By JOYANNA LOVE/ Photos Contributed
As a child, her uncle’s stories were a mystery. Something for only the adults to enjoy.
Yet, the bits and pieces and the laughter she overheard made her want to hear more.
“Growing up, going to my grandmother’s home at Christmas time their five kids would come in, and Drolan (her uncle) would tell his stories,” Verbena resident Myra Jones said. “The kids were not allowed to listen in, so I was so curious.”
Many of Drolan Chandler’s stories were from his time serving in World War II in the Pacific Theater.
“A lot of it was above the heads of children,” Jones said.
However, his sense of humor also came through as he shared with the family.
“I could hear them laughing and talking about it and get snippets of it,” Jones said. “He has such a good sense of humor and personality.”
This made Jones want to compile the stories into a book for the family. However, the manuscript that she started working on in 1985 grew into much more.
“As I got into it and (the) research, I saw that so many people could benefit from his courage and strength and his determination that he would survive,” Jones said.
Chandler had arrived in the Pacific right before the fighting started in December 1941.
“They fought until April 9,” Jones said. “He has the jungle combat. He tells about experiences there, and then after he was captured (by the Japanese in the Philippines) the death march.”
Chandler had been captured and held in three different prison camps.
“For two and a half years, his family didn’t even know he was alive or what had happened to him until they got a postcard from Japan,” Chandler said.
At one point, he was taken to Japan and made to work in mines there.
“While I was researching, I did get in touch with the mining museum there in Japan and they sent me pictures of the mine … and explained the processes of the mine,” Jones said.
Chandler was liberated on Sept. 2, 1945, but it would be Sept. 11 before United States Forces reached his camp.
Chandler was later awarded the Bronze Star.
Jones started the work for her book by having “numerous hours” of conversations with Chandler about his life and recording them.
“He lived in north Alabama, and I would go and spend a day with him,” Jones said. “We would just sit and talk, and I would interview him and transcribe. Then, I would research and I began to see that it was something that would benefit other people.”
She describes Chandler as having a “bulldog personality and spunk, and he really got himself into more trouble than he should have — it made for some dangerous and humorous situations, and he tells those stories.”
In the 1990s, Jones decided she wanted to publish the information in a book for those outside the family and her loved ones to read.
Chanlder said that in his life he took on the motto of “never give up,” so Jones chose this as the title for the book. The final title is “Never Give Up: as told by Drolan Chandler.”
Jones continued to work on the book off and on for several years. She would research the era before meeting with Chandler “so I would know what questions to ask him.”
“As I was doing it I would share stories with friends and co-workers and they would say, ‘that is so interesting, I would like to read that,’” Jones said.
This led to her deciding to have a book self-published, rather than simply compiling the information for family members.
Jones had experience writing about people’s inspirational stories for publication through articles she had done for a national church magazine.
The book is written in first person from Chandler’s perspective, capturing his storytelling style that first drew Jones in.
“I wrote this in a manner that it would be understood by military and non-military people, and I included over 200 pictures,” Jones said.
The book also includes maps, so the reader can understand the geographical location where the stories are taking place.
“Every time, I found a picture of the prison where he was I could just see where he had been,” Jones said. “It was wonderful to find pictures.”
Retiring in 2012 gave Jones more time to focus on the project.
“In the last two years, I really focused on wrapping it up,” Jones said.
Unfortunately, Chandler passed away before she could complete the book.
Finishing the book became her “life calling I felt like,” Jones said.
“God gave me a work to do and in these last months he has helped me bring it together,” she said.
When she began to gather all the information to get in the right order and polishing the writing, Jones began attending the Shelby County Art Council, Writing and Critique group, where she received input, encouragement and help with proofreading. Jones said Deb Kemper in the group became her mentor and helped her with self-publishing.
“The group edited the book several times all the way through,” Jones said.
There were several others along the way that helped her get the information that she needed.
“People have been so helpful along this journey,” Jones said.
She gave an example of a painting that she wanted to use a photo of. The artist was deceased, so Jones sought out who held the rights to the image to be able to get permission to use it in her book. She found that it was the Montana Museum of Art and Culture, and the museum usually did not allow use of the images, except for art-related reasons.
However, when she emailed the director she received a phone call and was given permission.
“I have met so many wonderful people along the way, especially in this last year, that have really contributed to this,” Jones said.
Acknowledgements to those who helped her are listed in the back of the book
Jones completed the book and had it self-published in December 2020.
Completing the book brought “the elations of completing a life-long dream,” Jones said. Family members have also been pleased at seeing the finished result.
“They are so elated,” Jones said. “His son, Jerry Chandler, he is retired military and he helped me some as far as military terms I sent him some copies … and he was so thrilled with the book.”
The book is now available through a number of major book retail websites and locally at the Chilton-Clanton Public Library, Wright Drug and Gifts and Chandler Drugs.
Jones said a portion of the proceeds from books purchased at the library will go to the library as a donation. (See library director Darlene Brock to purchase a copy.)
Jones said she also wants to share Chandler’s story through speaking to community groups.