I was born and raised in Akron, Ohio, then attended high school in Michigan after the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company transferred my father to the Detroit area. After attending Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, Michigan, I enrolled at the University of Notre Dame and received a bachelor's degree in history in 1967. I then studied American History for one year at Michigan State University, earning a master's degree in 1968.
I have long been fascinated with the Pacific Theater of World War II. In the fourth or fifth grade, I read a book about the Battle of the Coral Sea—and was hooked! As an adult, I have been blessed to be able to pursue that interest.
I have researched World War II history for more than thirty years, focusing mainly on the Pacific Theater. In addition to my books, which are described elsewhere on this website, I have written two chapters for a World War II book published by HarperCollins for the Library of Congress in 2004, as well as biographical essays on Admiral George Dewey and Admiral William Halsey that have been included in different collections. In addition, my writing has appeared in more than twenty-five magazines, including WWII HISTORY, MILITARY HERITAGE, NAVAL HISTORY, and AMERICAN HISTORY. Along the way, I have interviewed close to 400 veterans of both theaters of the war.
As part of my work, I have been fortunate to appear in various television productions. Oliver North interviewed me as his chief historian for an episode about Wake Island for his Oliver North's War Stories series on Fox Television. The History Channel asked me to be the main historical consultant and on-air commentator for the ten-part series, Pacific: The Lost Evidence, which is frequently rerun. BookTV has also aired some of my book presentations and signings. In June 2005 I retired after teaching junior high school History and Language Arts for more than thirty years. Happily, I found teaching and writing very compatible—they both require the ability to condense complicated topics into something people can grasp. I am currently a member of three historical/writing organizations—the Organization of American Historians, the Society for Military History, and the Golf Writers' Association of America.
Growing up in Akron, Ohio and having the chance to play the Firestone Country Club almost every summer day as a youth, I developed a love for golf that has never diminished. In writing articles for GOLF Magazine, MICHIGAN GOLFER, and other publications, I have been able to meet and personally interview figures such as Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and Phil Mickelson
I have three daughters—Amy, Julie, and Karen—and four grandchildren—Matthew and Megan Dickerman, and Emma and Kaitlyn Lastra. When I'm not writing or teaching, I like to golf, read, and jog.
TEN QUESTIONS WITH
When did you first develop an interest in writing?
I have always enjoyed writing, but I did not seriously look into it until the early 1980s. I read many magazine articles that I thought could have been better written, so I decided to try myself.
Did it take awhile?
A writer knows that one quality needed in abundance is patience—patience in waiting for decisions about acceptance or rejection, patience in seeing your work in print, etc. However, I was fortunate in getting my first national piece published. I called the editor of a history magazine and told her I thought I could write better than the people she currently used. She asked me to prove what I said and handed me an assignment—three typewritten pages on General Henry “Hap” Arnold. I completed it, sent it to her, and she offered me my first contract, an article on Arnold for American History Illustrated.
Did your teaching of junior high school students help or hurt you in your writing?
No doubt that it helped immensely! First of all, I always stressed to my students that they should have dreams and then do what was needed to attain those dreams. One day I realized I was giving them great advice, but not following it myself. I thought I could write, but I was doing nothing to attain that goal. That’s when I called the magazine editor.
Secondly, teaching junior high school students helped me be a clearer writer. A teacher has to simplify deeply complex ideas before he can hope to convey anything to junior high students. My years of doing this in the classroom helped me simplify things in my writing as well. I am a better writer now because of all my classroom demands.
Who are your favorite historical writers?
I have many, but will mention only a few. I loved reading Francis Parkman and Samuel Eliot Morison, because they brought their subject matter to life. You could “feel” the colonial forest through Parkman’s writing and the ocean’s water in Morison’s books. For similar reason, I enjoy any book by Tom Buell, a wonderful biographer, and David McCullough.
What do you attempt to convey with your writing?
I believe it is important to get across a story to the reader. I do not want to simply impart the facts, but to have the reader feel for the characters, as well as feel they are in the midst of the action. That is why I try to tell a story through the lives and experiences of a few main characters.
What is your favorite part of writing?
That’s sort of like asking who is your favorite daughter. I enjoy every aspect—the research in national, military, and library archives, reading books and articles, organizing notes, all of it. One would be the interviews, as they give me the chance to meet fascinating individuals and unearth human drama. I have been fortunate to talk with many amazing people, from the men who fought at Wake Island and Tarawa, to athletes like Jack Nicklaus and Gordie Howe. Another would be the revision process, as that is where the true writing emerges.
What would you tell someone who wanted to become a writer?
Start out by focusing on two things—read all the time, and write every day. In reading other authors, you learn the styles you enjoy as well as those you don’t; you learn which techniques appeal and which do not. When I was a student at Notre Dame, someone in writing class asked the professor how you become a writer. He said you sit down at a desk, start typing, and maybe ten years later you are a writer. His point was you need to practice your craft every day, just like any other endeavor.
Which books have you most recently read?
I have recently read few books for pleasure, as I have been completing my books, so the most recently read volumes pertain to the topic of my current projects. However, when things slow a bit I’ll return to reading anything on World War II, golf, and biographies. As far as reading fiction, I love Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels.
Who were influences on your career?
That’s easy—Tom Buell and Dr. Bernard Norling. Tom Buell, who wrote two marvelous biographies of Adm. Raymond Spruance and Adm. Ernest King, helped me in numerous ways. He early on took an interest in promoting my career by mentioning me to editors and historians, and was always ready with a helpful comment about writing. He was a writing mentor without peer. Dr. Norling, my history adviser at the University of Notre Dame, kept in touch through the years. In many letters, he encouraged me to keep after my writing. He and Tom Buell read my manuscripts—frequently going through boxes of red pens!—and their comments invariably improved my work. I owe much to these two quality human beings.
Does anybody else in your family write?
Not for publication. My older brother, Tom, is actually the best writer in the family. He could work wonders with the written word. A former naval aviator, he and his wife, DiAnne live a happy retirement in San Diego.
My writing has appeared in:
1. AIR LINE PILOT
2. AIR POWER HISTORY
3. AMERICAN HISTORY ILLUSTRATED
4. AMERICAN LEGION
5. AMERICA’s CIVIL WAR
6. AVIATION HERITAGE
7. BIOGRAPHY TODAY
8. BRITISH HERITAGE
9. CAF DISPATCH
10. Chicago Tribune
11. CIVIL WAR
12. Detroit Free Press
13. Detroit News
14. GOLF MAGAZINE
15. GREAT BATTLES
17. JOURNAL OF MILITARY HISTORY
18. MICHIGAN GOLFER
19. MILITARY HISTORY
20. MODERN WARFARE
21. Monroe Evening News
22. NAVAL HISTORY
23. NAVAL WAR COLLEGE REVIEW
24. Birmingham Observer and Eccentric
26. PGA TOUR PARTNERS
27. PGA TOUR 2000
28. ROUGH NOTES
29. SPORTS HISTORY
30. USA Today
31. U.S. News & World Report
33. Washington Post
34. WILD WEST
36. WORLD WAR II
37. Wyandotte News-Herald