SALT LAKE CITY — On Christmas Day in 1944, hungry American soldiers in a German prisoner camp couldn't help but watch with envy as Wendell B. Terry carefully mixed together powdered milk, sugar and unsweetened chocolate to make a small pan of fudge.
Terry, a Mormon bomber pilot from Utah, hadn't eaten anything sweet in almost six months. The fudge would be the perfect Christmas present to himself.
Then the gaunt faces and plight of his fellow prisoners, combined with thoughts of Jesus Christ and blessings in his own life, led Terry to make a decision that would convey a powerful Christmas spirit to his family and friends for decades to follow.
Using a small knife, Terry sliced the fudge into 24 tiny pieces and offered one to each man with a pleasant, "Merry Christmas."
"The fudge story is a Christmas tradition, a pertinent part of Christmas for us," said Marcia Plothow, Terry's oldest daughter.
Terry died in 1987, but his remarkable World War II experiences, including that memorable Christmas of 1944, will now live on in a book titled, "Lieutenant Terry's Christmas Fudge." Best-selling author Gerald N. Lund co-wrote the book with Plothow.
The small, 131-page book is a quick read. It chronicles Terry's life from his youth, to meeting and marrying his wife Beverly, and how news of Pearl Harbor changed the course of their lives and led him to flying U.S. bombers over France.
During the war, Terry survived several close-calls with death — escaping a burning plane, nearly shot, beaten by an enemy soldier — before landing in a German prison camp, where he remained until the end of the war.
"His whole story is sacred in our family because when you read it, you see how many times his life was spared, and not just spared, but in a miraculous way," Plothow said. "There was never an audience that wasn't totally spellbound by the story."
Plothow, now in her early 70s, heard her father's experiences hundreds of times over the course of her life and felt an urgency to preserve them in written form for the family. She began working on the project herself. A niece who knew Lund shared the fudge story with him and arranged an introduction with Plothow. She asked if Lund thought the story was compelling enough to be published. When he said yes, Plothow asked if he would consider writing it.
Lund, who is already in the middle of writing a historic fiction series based events surrounding WWI and WWII ("Fire and Steel") said he receives many such requests. Nine times out of 10 he agrees it's a good story, but he's committed to other projects that will keep him going for years. In this case however, Lund made an exception.
First, the story is remarkable in many ways, Lund said in an email to the Deseret News.
"If I had made that story up, it would be a powerful one," Lund said. "But the fact that it actually happened just that way really is an astonishing thing."
The real clincher for Lund was Terry's wartime log, a journal he received in a Red Cross war package while at the German prison camp. (How he received the package is another miracle.) Terry documented his time as a prisoner of war with several drawings and writings. Many of his journal illustrations are featured in the book.
"It is a real treasure of historical memorabilia," Lund said. "And it was quite a remarkable feeling to know that I was holding a book that had been produced more than 50 years earlier in a German POW camp."
But Lund liked the story for a third reason. Growing up, his family had a tradition of reading the Christmas story from the New Testament on Christmas Eve. Often his parents would share additional stories of people who had experienced the true spirit of Christmas.
"I would love to think that out there somewhere, this Christmas and in future Christmases, some families will share Lt. Terry’s story with their families to remind them what Christmas is all about," he said.
The entire process, from writing and editing to holding the finished product, was emotional for Plothow. Along the way, she could hear the voice of her father telling the story. To finally finish, with the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays coming soon, is "almost surreal." She hopes her father's experiences will continue to inspire others to have gratitude and serve others for years to come.
"That’s why it’s such a special story for us," said Plothow, who added that royalties from book sales will be used to help support family members who serve LDS missions. "It always helps us realize how much we have and need to be grateful for, and how much we need to serve others."
"Lieutenant Terry's Christmas Fudge" is available at Deseretbook.com.