Pierz native Roger Storkamp has written about everything from showgirls in Las Vegas to fiction based in Minnesota, but his most recent book is much closer to home.
When Roger Storkamp’s wife asked him to have her father, a retired paratrooper from World War II suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) come live with them, Storkamp was apprehensive.
The relationship between Leslie and his family was not great and the man was combatting alcoholism.
Still, Leslie came to live with his daughter and Storkamp, and eventually the two men began to talk about bits and pieces, before Storkamp chose to write a memoir for his father-in-law.
It started when Storkamp told Leslie he should put his thoughts and history to paper.
Leslie wrote one page before saying he couldn’t write well and that it hurt his hand.
After that, Storkamp would write for him, while Leslie and his daughter worked together to share his life story.
The easiest part of the writing process was taking what Leslie said and elaborating on it, Storkamp said, while the hardest part was tracking down information Leslie was unsure of.
Through this process, Storkamp learned a lot about Leslie.
“My journey with him throughout his life became one of awareness for me of him as a person and as a hero and then as an unsung hero who was badly damaged,” Storkamp said.
Leslie was born in St. Paul in 1925, where he was raised by a single mother.
In 1943, during World War II, he enlisted in the Army and fought as a paratrooper in the Pacific.
Eventually, he joined the 503rd Airborne Combat Regiment that served as special forces, Storkamp said.
After fighting through the islands from the Philippines to Iwo Jima, Leslie spent time in military hospitals for his PTSD, before leaving the service.
In civilian life, Leslie struggled to keep a job and to keep from attacking people due to his temper, Storkamp said.
In one case, Leslie was confined to the St. Peter State Hospital after he shot two men in St. Paul in 1962. No one was killed in the incident.
Throughout the last eight years of his life, Storkamp said Leslie began to get better, going to Alcoholics Anonymous.
Storkamp said he thought dealing with his past through writing the memoir allowed Leslie to learn to deal with what he did in the past.
Leslie’s only condition was deciding when the book would be released, Storkamp said.
“His only request was that I didn’t publish anything until he was gone, or ‘Until his ashes are dusted in the wind,’ he said,” Storkamp said.
Storkamp believes getting his story on paper helped Leslie learn to forgive himself.
“I can only assume he was having a real catharsis going through this,” Storkamp said.
Throughout the experience, Leslie and Storkamp became close with Storkamp regarding his father-in-law as a mentor and Leslie trusting Storkamp to help him as his health deteriorated.
“He was on total morphine at the end, and he allowed me to deliver it and trusted me with that,” Storkamp said.
The biggest thing he learned from Leslie, Storkamp said, was that it was OK to have issues in his past.
“He made it OK to not have a perfect past, to have bumps in the road and faults,” Storkamp said.
Leslie passed away in 2013
In addition to being sold at bookstores and websites, Storkamp is publishing the book for free one chapter a month on his blog, www.rogerstorkamp.com, along with his own memoir.
“There is no money in writing the way I was doing it, so I may as well make it available for anyone who is interested,” Storkamp said.