Bryant Museum Publishing Brings UA History to Life
A few years ago Ken Gaddy, director of the Paul W. Bryant Museum, received an intriguing suggestion. What about a book of stories focusing on UA football players who served in World War II?
The blend of football and history seemed a perfect fit for the museum, Gaddy said. Acclaimed journalist Delbert Reed was enlisted as writer for the book that became “When Winning Was Everything: Alabama Football Players in World War II.”
The book is divided into sections, by service. Each chapter contains a brief biography of the featured player, including his football career and in some cases, a look at life post-war. One chapter, “The Highest Price” is reserved for those who died serving their country.
After the success of “When Winning was Everything” the idea came up for a second book, one that gave a broader view of the Capstone’s contributions to the war effort.
“The second book, ‘All of Us Fought the War,’ was a logical follow-up of the first one, ‘When Winning Was Everything,’ as it focused on the University’s role and the role of many other men and women who took part in the war effort,” Reed said. “It pulls together a variety of historic sources, and I think provides a good summary of the University and its men and women during World War II, just as the title implies.
“The books together provide a number of personal histories of individuals with University of Alabama ties during World War II, and in doing so, provides a fairly thorough overall history of the war, since they were in so many historic battles from start to finish of the war,” Reed said.
“All of Us Fought the War” features first-person accounts of the World War II experiences of more than 100 former University of Alabama students as well as facts regarding the University’s far-reaching institutional role in the war effort.
“The book also provides a first-hand history lesson on the war because the men and women featured in the book were in all the theaters of war and in every major battle of the war, starting at Pearl Harbor, continuing with 1939 University graduate Tom Griffin’s participation in the daring Doolittle Raid on Tokyo on April 18, 1942, and ending with 1940 graduate James B. Johnson’s acceptance of the last official Japanese surrender on April 30, 1951,” Reed added.
In addition to front-line soldiers relating their combat experiences in battles around the world, the book features women who served in the military as airplane mechanics, ferry pilots and other roles.
Many returning service members did not want to discuss with their families what they saw and experienced in battle. Whether on a ship in the Pacific fighting kamikazes, or liberating the death camps in Europe, or landing at Normandy on D-Day, the memories were often difficult to share. Now, this generation is elderly and quickly passing away, Gaddy noted. “We as a nation and a University need to record those stories and honor the people who served while there is still time to talk with them.”
Reed has been the writer in residence at the Bryant Museum since 2009. When asked what it was like for him to write this story he replied, “I considered it an honor to be chosen for such an historic work. The men and women I interviewed were inspiring not only for their wartime efforts, but for their lifetime achievements and modesty as well. These men and women made history and preserved the free world; their stories should be recorded to any extent possible, and I am proud to have met so many of them.”
Reed has spent the last three years interviewing World War II veterans and writing the two books, and he said it has been the most rewarding time of his professional career as a writer. Both books are available at the Paul W. Bryant Museum. Buyers can receive a 20 percent discount with an ACT card.
The museum has collaborated with The University of Alabama Press on another book, and has a couple of manuscript ideas in the works, Gaddy said. The museum is not, however, interested in becoming a major publishing house. Only manuscripts that support the museum’s mission of preserving and highlighting University history, especially its sports connections, will be published through the museum.
“We are very selective in the book projects we undertake,” Gaddy said. “We are neither seeking nor accepting unsolicited submissions, queries from literary agents, and the like. The books we work on are those we determine support the museum’s mission, and we are very proud of them and even prouder of the people whose stories they tell.”