Chloe Melas and Elizabeth Murphy, LUCK OF THE DRAW: My Story of the Air War in Europe

Chloe Melas and Elizabeth Murphy, LUCK OF THE DRAW: My Story of the Air War in Europe

Zibby interviews CNN entertainment reporter Chloe Melas and her mother Elizabeth Murphy about their late grandfather and father Frank Murphy’s book, Luck of the Draw: My Story of the Air War in Europe, which tells the epic true story of a WWII hero who cheated death for months in a German POW camp after being shot out of a plane. Elizabeth shares how shocked her family was when her father finally decided to share his story after years of silence, and Chloe describes the tremendous, years-long process of re-publishing the book. She also tells the story of the 100th Bomb Group (the Bloody Hundreth), highlighting her grandfather’s pivotal role and tremendous courage. Finally, the two share how thrilled they are for Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg’s TV series Masters of the Air, which will feature Frank Murphy as a character!


Zibby Owens: Today, we have a special episode with two lovely ladies who are the cocreators and issuers forward of Frank Murphy’s book, Luck of the Draw, his daughter, Elizabeth Murphy, and his grandmother, Chloe Melas, both here on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” Very exciting.

Chloe Melas: I am so excited to be here with you. This is such an unbelievable opportunity. Thank you so much, Zibby. Seriously.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, of course. Chloe, you’ve been nice enough to have me on CNN and the whole online feature and the book club feature. It was so wild and fun to go in studio with you that day. That was a highlight of my life, so thank you.

Chloe: You were a natural. Honestly, that was such a fun interview, and obviously, talking about your book, which really has touched so many lives. You’ve really inspired so many people. That’s what I hope we’re going to do with my grandpa’s book. I’m telling you, I’m not an author here, but I feel like what it must be like to be you, Zibby, for a moment, to shepherd a book and try to promote a book and get a book to happen. I have so much admiration for authors after this process, this multiyear process.

Zibby: Luck of the Draw is My Story of the Air War in Europe by Frank Murphy, your grandfather and your father. It is unbelievable, so much information, emotion, source material. It’s just an incredible look into one man’s unbelievably inspiring journey, how he survived falling from an airplane landing in a German family’s backyard, essentially, with his parachute, surviving prisoner-of-war times. Also, he talks about even how he got there and the leadup to it and how it was so different then from what the air force is now and the level of training. He was literally just a student at Emory going about his everyday life. I think about what the students today are like and imagining if all of a sudden, we were depending on juniors at Emory to save the world. It’s crazy. Talk about how his journey to writing this came about and your ushering it into the world and all of it.

Chloe: Mom, that is such a “you” thing to answer because you’re really the reason why Grandpa ever decided to put pen to paper.

Elizabeth Murphy: As I wrote in my forward, my dad rarely spoke about his World War II experiences as we were growing up. We just had a notebook my mother had put together with a lot of memorabilia, grainy photographs. Once in a while, he would talk about parachuting from a burning plane and his injuries. It wasn’t until I was around eleven or twelve — I saw the movie The Great Escape. He told us he had been at the same prison camp. We were fascinated. Again, he never gave much details. Years later, I was beginning my writing career. I was writing for children. I had gotten my first book contract with a publisher in Atlanta. My dad was very excited. He came to me and said he wanted to write a book just for the family, a memoir. I had no idea it was going to focus on the war. I said, “It’s a great idea.” As I recount, I bought him a book, How to Write Your Own Life Story, for his birthday. He set about writing his book. It took a number of years to write. During this period, I published my first book. We moved to Dallas, Texas, for seven years. This was back in the snail mail days. Dad would often send me manila envelopes, portions of the book about different bombing raids and so forth and had me read them.

At some point as he got involved with the World War II reunion veterans’ groups, he came upon a small publisher that told him they would publish the book. Dad decided to give all the profits to the Mighty Eighth Museum in Pooler, Georgia. Then the book got published. He sent us all copies. I remember when I first read it. The children were too young to read it. Chloe and Stefan were very young. I remember when I read it, I was astonished. I didn’t know any of this, his wartime experiences, what he had been through. It really felt like a movie. We were so proud. The fact that it went full circle because he went even a step further by going over to Germany, tracking down the farmhouse, meeting the family — the little child had come running up to him when he parachuted. He was a grown man by then. He started correspondence with this family. He couldn’t speak the language. He would write letters in Atlanta and use a German translator. They went back and forth for years. It was, obviously, very cathartic. He enjoyed so much talking about it when he would go to these reunions. Chloe’s story is different because by the time she was growing up, little did I know he was regaling her and my nephew with his little wartime stories. Chloe can tell you about that.

Chloe: Zibby, it really starts with this idea, my mom basically giving How to Write Your Own Life Story for Dummies. My grandfather, it turns out as I’ve done this family tree search and quest — now I do 23andMe and all this kind of stuff. I’m so interested in my family’s history. It turns out there were other journalists and writers and people who worked for newspapers in our family. I think it sort of runs in our blood a little bit, this storytelling. I remember as a little girl, being in the basement — my grandfather was retired. He was writing on a typewriter. Then he moved to a word processor, then a computer. This published right when I was in college. I didn’t read it immediately. It was around that time that I started developing this interest in World War II. I was learning about it in high school, learning about it more in college in some of my history courses.

When my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer really shortly after this book came out, I decided to go to England to the air force base where he flew out of. That was the beginning of a fifteen-plus year for me, learning about my grandfather and what he went through. When I found out that Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg were going to be telling my grandfather’s story in Masters of the Air for Apple TV that comes out this fall, I just knew that this book needed to be really published, not self-published, published for people to be able to get because it’s been out of print essentially since the moment it came out. That is where that comes in. Let me tell you, I did not know what was in store for me. I thought it was going to be, okay, here’s the book. Here you go. Just reprint it. Make more copies. No. That is not what happened. No. a lot.

Zibby: It’s essentially like it’s coming out new as if it hadn’t been ever released. When you acquire a book like this, the publisher — who is publishing it? St. Martin’s?

Chloe: St. Martin’s, yeah.

Zibby: It’s like acquiring a new book and all the marketing and everything related to it.

Chloe: The craziest part is, Zibby, is they were like, “Can you send us the Word document or wherever he wrote this?” I’m like, “It basically was written on a scroll.” They had to digitize the book. We all looked at each other. It’s not something that’s done often. Then they’re like, “Great. We’ll get the book digitized. It’s going to take a minute. Can you give us the photos that are in the book?” There’s a hundred-something photos. I’m like, “Hey Grandma, do you know where these photos are?” She’s like, “What are you talking about?” I had to fly down to Atlanta for a weekend and dig through the basement, through the storage unit, through boxes. I’m not joking. It was like something out of a movie. All of a sudden, the sun came in through the window, landed on this box in my grandmother’s guest room, not even in the places I was looking, and it said, “Photos for the book.” It was in the place my grandfather had left it right in 2006, 2007 before he died. All the pictures were there. Then I was like, these are original photographs from the forties, from World War II. Do I take them with me on an airplane? Do I scan them? Do I mail them? These are original copies. I was carrying them through the Atlanta Hartsfield Airport as if it was the queen’s royal jewels. I was so terrified. Look, here we are. It’s been wild. Then it was, how do I get support? What do I do? I’m telling you, there’s a whole other story about one of the worst days I’ve had. I got an email from Tom Hanks with a quote for the book to use for the cover. I cried and cried. It was the most insanely amazing moment. I had gone through this process, gotten St. Martin’s on board. My agents with CNN helped me make this happen, at CAA. To then have that support —

Elizabeth: — I remember I was overseas when Chloe got the quote. She sent it to me. It says at the top — he has this very innocuous email. I didn’t recognize —

Chloe: — Don’t say the email. Don’t say Tom Hanks’ email.

Elizabeth: She says, “Don’t share this with anyone.” I read the quote. I thought, who is this from? Then we talked to each other. We both had a good cry because we couldn’t believe — it wasn’t just that Tom Hanks gave a quote. It’s what he said.

Zibby: Let me read it. Here, the quote is, “In the pursuit of authenticity of accurate history and undeniable courage, no words matter more than ‘I was there.’ Read Luck of the Draw and the life of Frank Murphy and ponder this: how did those boys do such things? -Tom Hanks”

Elizabeth: It just sounds like Tom Hanks. We were so excited. Did you tell the story about Tom calling Grandma?

Chloe: No, but let me just say that I — Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, from Schindler’s List to Band of Brothers, The Pacific, they have tirelessly spent such a large portion of their professional careers telling the stories from World War II. They’ve always wanted to tell, Zibby, the story of the air war, but they want to do it right. They don’t want to rely on just CGI. They literally rebuilt World War II and the air war, rebuilt planes from scratch, built their own B-17s. It’s one of the most expensive TV shows ever made. It was going to be on HBO like the others, but this is going to be Apple TV, which is so exciting. I went to the set during the pandemic. Mind you, I almost missed the opportunity. They were almost going to be done filming, but because of all the COVID restrictions — remember when you had to quarantine in Europe for two weeks when you got there before you could go out? I couldn’t leave my two little kids for that long. As a mom, I’m sure you get that. I was like, I’m not going to get to go. They lifted it. Literally, I was on a plane forty-eight hours later with ten of my family. I was like, “By the way, I’m not coming alone. Can I bring my aunts, my uncles, my cousin, my brother, my husband?” We went to the set. It was wild. Tom wasn’t there. Now I’ve developed a relationship with the guy playing my grandfather, Jonas Moore. He’s actually the narrator, the voice of the audiobook for Luck of the Draw too, which is awesome.

Zibby: Wow. How did Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks find the story? Did they find the old copy of the book? Did you send it to them? How did that happen?

Chloe: This is really interesting. When my grandfather self-published his book with a local publisher called F&P at the time — it was a food and nutrition publisher. He had been in the Eighth Air Force. He had developed a really wonderful relationship, friendship with my grandfather. They had published it and only put out a certain amount of copies. My grandfather started speaking at these different World War II reunion groups, the museum in Savannah and the 100th Bomb Group Foundation, which now I’m on the board of. That’s also super full circle. I wish I could tell my grandfather that, look at me now. Who would’ve expected that I’d be talking about World War II and becoming this expert, in a way, on your life? It got circulated, the copies that were out there, among people who were just diehard 100th Bomb Group, Bloody Hundredth fans, supporters, family members.

When Tom Hanks and Spielberg decided with Hanks’ production company, Playtone, Spielberg’s production company, Amblin, they were going to tell Masters of the Air, which is a book written by Don Miller — he’s a historian who wrote this New York Times best-selling book. They optioned his book. My grandfather is quoted in that book. My grandfather knew Don Miller. My grandfather wrote his book shortly after or around the same time that Don’s book came out. Somehow, it got into the hands of Playtone. Still to this day, I joke with the people at Playtone. We don’t really know how they stumbled across it. The writers, specifically, John Orloff, who wrote Band of Brothers, who’s famous and wrote, now, Masters of the Air, the screenplay — he started going to these 100th Bomb Group Foundation events. Guess who was there too? Me. I’d be sitting next to him. I’d pull up a chair. I’m like, “I know I work for CNN, but don’t worry. I’m not here as a journalist. I’m here as a granddaughter.” We would chat. I’m not saying I had anything to do with getting it on the radar, but I did interview —

Elizabeth: Yes, she did.

Chloe: — Tom Hanks. I did interview Steven Spielberg about other projects. I may or may not have brought my grandfather’s book, the last copies, with me and physically handed it to them. They had already known about my grandfather’s story. It was a really magical moment when Kirk Saduski at Playtone said — I did not bring it up for years. I never asked if Grandpa was going to be in it. I’m just happy that they’re telling the stories of the 100th Bomb Group, which is a specific unit that my grandfather was in known as the Bloody Hundredth. It’s one of folklore and heroes. Austin Butler is going to be the star of this TV show. When they told me, “Your grandfather is in it. He’s a character,” I was hoping that they would say that, but I never wanted to ask because that’s not my purpose of being friends with these people. I’d be amplifying Masters of the Air whether or not my grandfather is in it. It is just such a wild thing, and that I’m an entertainment correspondent, the fact that this all gets to intersect as the shooting-star moment in my life in this one moment. I loved my grandfather so much. I just want to say he was the nicest, most soft-spoken, sweetest person. He did everything for the family. He always helped anybody, whether it was the worst moment of their life or the best moment of their life. My grandfather always supported. It’s such a joy for me to be able to use my platform and do whatever I can to tell his story because he deserves it. He worked for almost a decade on the book. I want it to be seen.

Zibby: This is such a crazy story. It’s a whole thing. It’s amazing. Now the fact that the book is out — by the way, he’s a great writer. It does not feel like somebody just doing it yourself in your closet type of writing. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. This is actually a really great history. It’s like a James Bradley. Is that his name? I don’t know. All these war reporters and correspondents. It’s so vivid and visual. You’re in it. Then there’s all the source material, but it’s his story. The way he tells it with this slight remove and analysis but also what it was like being there, it’s really amazing. It’s amazing. Of course, you want to do everything you can to shout it from the rooftops. It’s so special. For people who don’t know as much about why it is the Bloody Hundredth or why this group was so special and why there even is a TV show, can you give the quick synopsis of who this group is and why it’s so important in history?

Chloe: Yes. Like you said, a bunch of just barely eighteen, right in college or barely out of high school guys enlisting in the war. You could try to join the air force. You could try to be a pilot, but it really came down to your abilities. My grandfather wanted to fly, loved airplanes his whole life. It was called the Eighth Air Force. The Eighth Air Force still exists today. Within the Eighth Air Force are different squadrons and then different bomb groups. You’re just thrown into one, like the title of the book, Luck of the Draw. My grandfather was in the 100th Bomb Group. They all flew out of England, out of Thorpe Abbotts Air Force Base. Most of them flew out of that area. That’s where my grandfather flew out of for his many, many missions. This group got a nickname called the Bloody Hundredth. No one really knows why. Some say it’s because the Bloody Hundredth had the most casualties. Others say that the Germans specifically targeted the 100th because of the rules of engagement, that the 100th didn’t abide by the rules of engagement up in the sky. A German fighter pilot put their landing gear down, allegedly, which means “Don’t fire at me,” and supposedly, a 100th plane fired at them. Then allegedly, the Germans then targeted this specific group.

Out of this group were so many amazing stories. Don Miller, writing Masters of the Air and focusing on the 100th like he did, Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg then were like, that’s the story we want to tell. We want to tell the stories of the 100th. There are all of these amazing stories you’re going to hear about, Dan Rosenthal’s father, Rosie Rosenthal, who’s very famous now. All of these men are dead. My grandfather’s story will be told. Harry Crosby’s story will be told. I have his book right behind me, A Wing and A Prayer. That was also used for the series. My grandfather’s book, Luck of the Draw, was source material for John Orloff in writing the series. My grandfather’s book is really interesting because, like you said, Zibby, there’s not a lot of these stories out there from personal firsthand accounts. Don Miller, it’s incredible — like I said, New York Times best-selling book — but he wasn’t there. My grandfather was. He talks at length about being a prisoner of war for almost two years there in the same prison camp where The Great Escape happened. The Great Escape was the British side, but my grandfather was separated by just barbed wire. A death march in the snow — I have the shoe behind me right up there, one of the shoes that he used for his march.

Zibby: I can’t see it. Wait, hold on, you have to grab it. You said he switched shoes with a soldier and got a clog. Now here is the clog. This is insane. Hold on, I’m taking a screenshot of this as we’re talking. Here, hold it up. Sorry, keep going.

Chloe: It’s just incredible. Long and short, these men, they come back from World War II. They get back to their lives. My grandfather finished his time at Emory University, met my grandmother. They popped out four children, my mom the second oldest. Then my grandfather had this spectacular job as a lawyer for Lockheed Martin back working with airplanes, selling planes for the Saudi royal family. He lived in Saudi Arabia for a majority of the end of his career. Like you said, my grandfather happens to be a great writer. I always knew he was brilliant and had a way with words. That’s the other thing. It’s not just that it was my grandfather and I’m biased and I love my grandfather. I’m not saying my grandfather’s story is anything more exciting than anybody else’s grandfather’s story. It’s just the fact that he wrote it all down. It’s there. There’s not many of these stories out there. This is a historical, sacred account. We can look back on this and learn from it too. These guys, they had barely any experience, any training. The scariest and saddest part is that they did these daylight bombing raids. They literally went up in the sky — they’re not bombing bin Laden in the middle of the night. Not that I’m belittling that.

I’m talking, they’re flying right now, 1819, morning, as soon as the soon goes up. They’re a target in the sky right there for the Germans. We decided, the US, that the way that we could accurately do precision bombing would be these daylight bombing raids, but that means you’re going to lose a lot of people. My grandfather talks about that, being in these airplanes. I’ve been in a B-17 from World War II. It’s like a tin can. It’s so loud. It’s freezing, by the way. My grandfather was the navigator. He was like what GPS is now. He’s there with a map trying to stay calm, focused. It’s because he’s so calm and so brilliant that he was able to map out these targets and get people where they needed to go. People out there that think, “I’m not that interested in World War II or history. I want to read my crime books or curl up with my love stories,” I’m telling you this really is a page-turner. It’s really good, and you’re going to learn something too. That’s why I’m so passionate about telling it. Zibby, I can’t thank you enough for using your platform to shine a light on this. I know how much you love your family and your dad and how much you care about legacy. I know that you just get it. I really appreciate that.

Zibby: I do get it. I do think it’s amazing. It is so special a project. I have so much respect for the two of you for all your efforts in making sure that this story gets out there. It’s one thing to write it. It’s another to make sure people read it. All of your efforts and the collaboration with the show is so exciting. It’s just amazing.

Elizabeth: You know, Zibby, I would say in closing, my father often lamented at the end of his life how much he wished the book had been picked up by a big publisher. This was really his fondest wish. I don’t think he even knew it went out of print. I didn’t know until I went to visit the museum, and they’d never heard of the book, went into the Mighty Eighth Museum in Savannah.

Chloe: They will know it now.

Elizabeth: They’re going to know it now. This was my bucket list.

Zibby: Congratulations. My stepfather was a rabbi in the air force. He was a rabbi in the medic. Maybe they crossed paths. I’m sure not.

Chloe: Maybe.

Zibby: Who knows? Thank you both for coming on. Chloe, I feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface. I would love to hear more about your journey of getting this book out in the world and all the backstory even more. Congratulations. Luck of the Draw: My Story of the Air War in Europe, Frank Murphy. Really amazing. Congratulations.

Chloe: Thank you.

Elizabeth: Thank you, Zibby.

Zibby: Thank you. Bye, ladies.

Elizabeth: Bye.

Chloe: Bye

Chloe Melas and Elizabeth Murphy, LUCK OF THE DRAW: My Story of the Air War in Europe

LUCK OF THE DRAW: My Story of the Air War in Europe by Chloe Melas and Elizabeth Murphy

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