Frequently asked questions about my book.
Working on the book for nearly two years, I've had a lot of questions come up regarding my research. I hope I can answer some of them here.
What made you interested in Soviet awards to Americans? (Also known as “Why are you interested in such an odd, esoteric subject?”)
In 1999, I was sitting on my ship when I saw an eBay auction for an Order of Glory in its issue red box. I had seen one of those before, but what made me very curious this time was the piece of yellowed paper taped to the lid. On it was the name of a US Navy Chief Petty Officer! Honestly, I thought someone had obviously made a mistake, or maybe someone had played with it at some point in its life. So I tossed on a low-ball bid of $30 and forgot about it for the remainder of the auction. Turns out I was the only person to bid and I won it! I kept it on a shelf for years, mostly as a curio. A few years later, I was talking to another friend of mine about it and he mentioned that a mutual friend owned the award book for the same veteran! I was happy to reunite them and for the longest time, I had the only Soviet award to a US Navy veteran anyone had ever encountered.
In 2003, I came across a list of US Navy personnel who were awarded Soviet medals during WW2. There were 190, as I didn’t yet know about the 1944 awarding of 13 earlier decorations. Never lacking in precociousness, I started looking the veterans up in the white pages! I was able to find six veterans and/or families, but from that information, combined with information that I research simultaneously on Soviet awards to US Army veterans, I was able to write my 17-page feature article in the Journal of the Orders and Medals Society of America (JOMSA). It was published in September 2007, and I was later awarded the 2007 OMSA Literary Medal for the tome.
After the article was written, I felt I had pretty much “tapped” my abilities at researching Soviet awards to US Navy personnel any further. Fast forward to 2011: while cleaning out my garage one day, I came across my old working papers from my 2007 JOMSA article. I thought to myself: “Hmmm…I wonder if, with all that’s available now, it would be possible to research these recipients a little more.” I tried it, and it was possible! From muster sheets to merchant vessel immigration forms, so much more was available on the Internet than when I had been researching these veterans in 2003 to 2006. I figured I’d give my research another shot…and here we are! Now it’s not just a matter of finding anything at all, but pulling the right story out of the avalanche of available information.
Who is the intended audience for your book?
The primary audience for this book is collectors, researchers, and historians of the US and Soviet militaries. The emphasis will be on the medals and the story behind each recipient. Having the emphasis on collectors is why there will be a plethora of photos of the recipients and the awards, and having the emphasis on historians lends to the narrative of who these brave men were and what they did to earn these awards. In short, there are a lot of really fantastic photos and there's a lot of information - it should make everyone happy!
How did you find all of these people?
I’ve spent upwards of 40 hours looking for the remaining relatives of a single veteran, and for the book, there were 217 individual veterans to look up. Normally, I can find people through the obituaries or newspaper reports about veterans, their spouses, or their relatives. After finding a name from an article, it then takes time to locate the person. Sometimes LOTS of time, lots of patience, and quite a bit of money (I have several subscriptions to public records websites that aren't cheap!) But I was determined to contact as many veterans and their families as I possibly can for my book - so it was worth every penny to me.
The resources I use to find people include: ancestry.com, newspaperarchive.com, geneologybank.com, fold3.com, peoplefinders.com, whitepages.com, and google. I can’t recall a single instance of where I was able to track down someone using a single source; I always have these resources open and available when I am trying to find people.
On several occasions, I spent many hours tracking down someone to only figure out that the person I was looking for wasn't the right one. In the same way, trying to find some of these people was nothing short of a monumental "needle in the haystack." In one case, I found the younger brother of the veteran. He knew the veteran had a son, but he had never met the son. He did know that the son served in the Korean War as a Marine. With those bits of information and a last name, I had to track the veteran's son down. Amazingly, through a series of events that were nothing short of provedential, I was able to find the son's granddaughter who then passed my letter to her father and then on to the veteran's son. In the end, an even better story came about because I was able to introduce the veteran's son with his uncle - who he had never before met! It was an amazing reunion, and it was all because I was absolutely determined to find information on every one of these 217 men.
Wait...are you writing an expose? Are you paparazzi?
No, not by a long shot! My goal was to simply create a picture of what these brave men did to earn their awards and their non-military backgrounds. Sometimes, both their time in the military and their time as civilians wasn't the greatest. I know we all have grandiose ideas of the Greatest Generation, but these men were human...and all humans have their own set of issues (some more than others, I found!) Out of respect for their memories though, unless there was something that directly related to the story, I typically left out the not-so-savory parts of their stories. I frankly can't see the benefit of including the bad (and some of it quite bad) with the good of the individual acts of heroism that earned them their medals.
Likewise, having contact with the families, I was able to have them review the veteran's biography to ensure I got the details correct - I will admit that with a couple, I did make errors in some minor details. I would have caught them later, but it was really handy to have the family call those issues to my attention right off the bat. Thus, I am extremely appreciative to those families who worked with me to make this book as accurate as humanly possible. For some veterans, even though I found the family, they remained sadly unresponsive and thus, the vet's bio is as accurate as the information I had.
Was this some sort of scam to buy medals? You were a collector at one point, right?
No - that was absolutely not my intention at all, and it would have been very disingenuous of me to make contact for my book and then pursue the purchase of the award(s) or claim to be some sort of "museum" seeking donations. I believe that’s a conflict of interest, and frankly, I have neither the time, interest, and especially, the financial resources to attempt to court families to sell their awards under the guise of writing a book. I personally feel that the absolute best place for military items remains with the family. Quite honestly, for the purposes of my research for this book, I was VERY happy with photos of the awards and getting to meet and know some absolutely fine people - both veterans and their families. It's much like one of the Boy Scout outdoor mottos: "Take only photos, leave only footprints". I have been very content with building the story of the lives of each recipient and getting photos of their awards for my book. For me, that has been my greatest takeaway from this whole process.
How many other families and/or veterans were you in contact with?
Since I started contacting families back in October 2012, I got in touch with approximately 178 families and six veterans. I tracked down 107 awards (many families don’t know the location of the award). I drove over 26,000 miles and met with 119 families in 40 out of 50 states in the last two years. I'm amazed and exceptionally appreciative for the overwhelmingly positive response I received during my research and contact with the families! The range of responses has been everything from short e-mails to long discussions and chains of regular correspondence. My wife always knew when I had been in contact with yet another family or veteran because it really was the highlight of my day. She told me: "Instead of asking how your day at work went, I should just ask who you got to hear from today!" Really, being in contact with the veterans and their families and learning about these men meant the world to me, and I truly am grateful for every contact I've made so far. I've met some really fantastic people that I would have never had a chance to meet had it not been for the book and my research, and for that opportunity, I am forever grateful.
Did you receive a government grant for this research?
No. I paid for everything out-of-pocket. Last year I spent over $48,000 on the book. This is a labor of love for me - telling the stories of these brave men. It's worth every penny.
Can I have a copy of your book when you publish it?
You are absolutely welcome to purchase a copy when it is published. At this point, I unfortunately cannot guarantee I will be able to freely give away copies of the book as the projected cost per book will be around $69.00 each as it stands currently (that’s about “normal” for books of this genre). I appreciate your understanding!