Andrew J. Capets talks about the inspiration for his account of events in World War I, titled Good War, Great Men. He will be interviewed on the WWI Centennial Podcast on July 25. Be sure to check it out and read on to learn about how this book came together.
Tell us about Good War, Great Men. What was the inspiration for your book?
Several years ago, I was standing next to my father, starring into a display case at the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall in Pittsburgh admiring their exhibition of WWI items, specifically, a 1917 Browning machine gun. My father said, “That’s the kind of machine gun my father shot when he was in France.” This story was completely foreign to me. While I knew my grandfather was a veteran, I never truly contemplated the thoughts of my grandfather fighting on a battlefield. I thought this would be an interesting topic to explore. I had no idea it would lead me to writing a book about the men of his unit, specifically those who served in the 313th Machine Gun Battalion.
How did you research the events you wrote about?
My main source of information were the letters and journals written by men of the battalion. I used ancestry.com to create a family tree for many of the officers and then reached out to the family members of these men to ask about any stories or letters that they could recall from their father or grandfather. I also made trips to the National Archives in College Park, Maryland to obtain official records of the troop movements.
Some soldiers don’t like to talk much about their experiences during war. Were there things you hoped to learn more about that were hard to find information about?
Writing about the topic of suicide and PTSD for these men was difficult to document and try to draw a direct link from their service during the war to what happened after the war. I came across several death certificates from men who returned from France who later ended their own life. In one case, it was the most senior officer in this battalion. However, just as we have seen in the news of recent high-profile people committing suicide, we can never fully understand the reasons behind their actions.
What was the most surprising thing you learned while writing this book?
I would say the generosity from others that I received while researching this book. Whether that was in the form of sharing personal letters, photographs, or their time. We live in a society today where we do need to be cautious of someone’s intent and we must be on our guard. In my case, once I explained who I was and what my intentions were, I was overwhelmed by the generosity that people extended to me to help me tell this story. We are proud of our ancestors who served and it was reflected in that kindness.
You recently had an honor bestowed on you from the World War One Centennial Commission. Tell us a little about this and what it means.
The Commission was created by an Act of Congress in 2013 to plan, develop, and execute programs, projects, and activities to commemorate the Centennial of World War I. Having my book included as part of this national effort underscores my efforts to properly remember my grandfather’s service and, more importantly, recall the sacrifice of the men who served with him but never returned home.
What’s harder – researching or writing?
Writing was harder. Research is like treasure hunting. I love turning over a stone see what lies beneath it, and eventually I will find that awesome gem of information. Writing is trying to narrow down the story of all the stones I turned over and keep the reader interested. I like turning over stones.
Do you have any other projects in the works?
I’m active in a local historical society and have been researching a few individuals from the Pittsburgh area. The subjects fascinate me, and I’m in fact gathering mode now. I’m enjoying the time turning over stones, but I do hope to narrow down my efforts to just one individual and hopefully share their story with another book.
About Andrew, from Amazon: