CONCORD -- As the number of World War II veterans dwindles, so do the chances to preserve eyewitness accounts of the bloodiest conflict in human history.
Determined not to pass up her opportunity, Rhonda Lomeli set out to safeguard the oral histories of two young Marines who were caught up in that all-encompassing cataclysm a lifetime ago.
The Concord resident has compiled the battlefield experiences of her father and uncle in the just-published book, "Semper Fi, Marine."
"I didn't want the history to go away. I wanted the younger generation to know about World War II, know what war is," Lomeli said.
The 196-page volume consists largely of first-person narratives by the late Raul Lomeli and his younger brother, Alfred, now 89, and living in Martinez.
Lomeli wove their memories into her own writings, which provide historical context for the conversations she had with them and set the scene for the action they saw in the Pacific Theater.
Raul and Al both fought in Okinawa and also were stationed together in China and Pavuvu, part of the Solomon Islands northeast of Australia.
Al, Lomeli's father, also did battle in Papua, New Guinea, and on the tiny island of Peleliu, site of the bloodiest amphibious warfare in the Pacific.
Inspiration for Lomeli's first book came to her decades ago in the form of a seventh-grade class assignment.
Tasked with writing a report about someone who had made a mark on the world, she drew on her father's reminiscences about being a 17-year-old during the war with Japan.
Lomeli thought then that what he and Raul had witnessed was worthy of a book, and eventually she decided to take on the project.
Having dropped out of college to care for her three children, Lomeli first returned to Cal State East Bay to finish the English degree she wanted to help her write concisely.
After several years of night classes, she began interviewing Al and Raul in earnest about four years ago.
In addition to recording and painstakingly transcribing the conversations, Lomeli had the men jot down recollections that came to mind between their get-togethers.
The fact gathering also included field work: In 2008, Lomeli took a weeklong trip to Peleliu and retraced her father's steps on the battleground where more than 6,000 Marines were killed or wounded over the course of two months in 1944.
In walking the hill where Al and his platoon came under heavy fire from the Japanese, Lomeli came upon a helmet with a bullet hole, a poignant relic that she believes belonged to a fellow Marine who was killed right in front of him.
Following the tour, she sorted through dozens of personal photos as well as those in government archives to find those related to the brothers' role in the war.
Al and Raul's stories also had to be presented in chronological order; nailing down the when-and-where of their remembrances was the toughest part of the project, said Lomeli, who spent hours doing her own research online and amassing a library of books to flesh out those details.
"It's like pieces of a quilt -- you have to somehow tie them all together so the story flows rather than (being in) bits and pieces," she said.
But at last she was ready to start writing.
Four hours a night, five nights a week, Lomeli tapped away on her laptop until midnight while the rest of the family slept.
Once she had a rough draft, she faced the challenge of editing her work.
"I didn't want to cut out parts that were important," Lomeli said.
Twice a month she took a few pages to a writers group, where she read them aloud as a handful of others followed along and marked suggested revisions on their copy\ies of the manuscript.
Lomeli submitted the final version to a publishing company in January, and several weeks ago, the first 100 copies arrived on her doorstep.
Each is intended as a reminder not only of her family's contributions to the wartime effort, but of the ultimate sacrifice that countless other young men made.
"I want to be a voice for them," Lomeli said. "They mattered. They're gone. That should be acknowledged."
Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Follow her on Twitter.com/RowenaCoetsee.