Documenting great escapes: Former colleagues co-author military history book
WORTHINGTON — A pair of former coworkers and continued friends have recently launched their co-authored book: “Great Wartime Escapes and Rescues.”
David Mills and Kayla Westra’s collection of short stories about global wartime escapes and rescues was officially released Friday. The book is available for purchase on Amazon or from the book publisher, ABC-CLIO.
“It didn’t really feel real until last Friday when the books showed up on the front step,” said Westra of receiving a hard copy of the book she and Mills have spent more than a year researching and writing.
Westra is the dean of institutional effectiveness and liberal arts at Minnesota West Community and Technical College and is based at the Worthington campus. Mills is an assistant professor of military history at the US Army Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Mills routinely commutes back to Worthington, as his wife, Ann, is a science teacher at Worthington High School. Their three children also still live in the area.
The featured wartime escapes and rescues date as far back as Mary, Queen of Scots to as recent as the war in Afghanistan.
The stories feature both lighter and heavier accounts of the tactical lengths prisoners of war and government agencies underwent to escape or rescue their own. The notorious and lesser-known escape stories follow the bravery of those who attempted escapes, many of which took years of planning.
According to Mills, a very small percentage of prisoners of war attempt to escape. For the few that do, success is seldom.
“This book is of the exceptions,” he said. “The ones that tried to escape were exceptionally brave.”
Westra added that the book also honors the ones that never made it out.
“That part bothers me — the ones that don’t make it,” she said.
The book isn’t exclusive to success stories. Mills and Westra advocated to include stories that didn’t necessarily result in a happy ending.
“You need to include those failures,” Mills said. “If not, then the successes don’t shine by comparison.”
The book includes an extensive resource list for further reading on a particular entry.
“Great Wartime Rescues and Escapes” is Mills’ third book. He’s also authored “Cold War in a Cold Land” and “Operation Snowbound.”
When ABC-CLIO came looking to one of the military college’s military historians to research and produce a collection of wartime escapes and rescues, Mills snatched up the opportunity — but he didn’t want to write it alone.
That’s when he contacted Westra, with whom he often bounced ideas around when he had an office that abutted hers while he was a history, political science and economics professor at Minnesota West from 2009 to 2016. Mills continues to be an adjunct professor at the college and teaches an online class.
As an avid history lover, Westra was quick to jump on board. Her background in both writing and editing complemented Mills’ military history knowledge.
“Working with Kayla was awesome because she made me get it done,” Mills said of Westra’s knack for propelling the project forward and sticking to deadlines.
Mills himself served in the U.S. military from 1987 to 1997. There’s one photo of Mills in “Great Wartime Rescues and Escapes” from 1989. In the photo, Mills is at the Berlin Wall shaking hands with someone from the other side.
Westra and Mills both agreed that they learned a lot through the process.
“And we’re still friends, if that tells you anything about working through this project,” Mills said jokingly.
With a couple of tentative ideas in mind for another project, the duo is already considering which idea to bring to fruition next.