All History is Local,
Interview with Alec O'Meara Hippo Press, March 13-19, 2008:
"You just plod, and plod, and all of a sudden, you find gold..." New Hampshire native William McGee recently completed a book featuring some of the state's most daring fighters throughout U.S. History. The book includes veterans from every signifcant conflict from the Revolutionary War to Desert Storm, organized chronologically. However, a veteran himself, McGee said he makes an effort throughout the book not to automatically label the veterans as "heroes."
O'Meara: Why did you decide to write this book?
McGee: I'm not meaning to criticize my teachers, but in high school we had a very inadequate local history, and I said, 'Gee, for some of my buddies that were more into hunting and fishing or sports, I wanted to write this so that a student, male or female, would pick it up and it would be easy to read, and they would learn something, rather than hit them over the head with a history book with names and dates that they had to memorize.
O'Meara: There was a lot of this information that you had been gathering for a very long time. When you started getting into the heavy research, was there anything about any of these men that you hadn't known before?
McGee: I think probably John Stark. I knew the name, but I knew very little about the man, other than his Revolutionary War service. But then of course, with any research, you find out the nuts and bolts and family stuff... I never realized that the phrase "Live Free or Die" comes from Stark... At the end of the biography on John Stark, it mentions that he was invited to a gathering of revolutionary officers, and he couldn't make it, so he wrote them a letter. I think it was one of the phrases he used in his letter.
O'Meara: Did you get to do any interviews with some of the ancestors or veterans that are still alive?
McGee: I did get to speak with the sons of General Melvin Zias and the son of General Frank Merrill of Merrill's Marauders. For someone as prominent as Frank Merrill, there's no biography written, so that was a particularly difficult one. It was easy and it was hard, in that there was the part that everyone had heard about, which was Merrill's Marauders in the Second World War in Burma. The hard part was getting the particulars about his family and growing up, and his son, Tom, who is a UNH graduate, told me the story about how when Frank, his dad, enlisted in the army he was only 16 years old, so he stood in front of the army recruiter, the sergeant, and the sergeant asks him, "Are you over 18, son?" and Merrill said, "Yes sir, I'm over 18." What he had done was he had written 18 on the soles of his shoes. So he told the truth. He was over 18. He talked his way into the Army... Little insights like that were just wonderful. You just plod, and plod, and all of a sudden, you find gold.
O'Meara: You made the comment that people who have been to war aren't necessarily interested in talking about it, and people who haven't been can't possibly understand.
McGee: It's true. I'm still involved with the Scouts and every Saturday, I go up to a Scout camp and there's a small group of five or six of us that go and have coffee and do little projects around the camp. Most of the men there are veterans and three of them are Vietnam veterans, and we very rarely ever talk about that. There's nothing really to say.
O'Meara: With that in mind, who do you feel this book is for then?
McGee: I would hope that people that would read about it would first be people interested in New Hampshire, and maybe that would even branch out into New England. But it's actually an American history book, because it does go from the French and Indian War up to contemporary times. What I'm seeing is that when you talk about the Vietnam War with high school students, it is ancient history. Or even 1991, the first gulf war in Iraq, it's ancient history.
O'Meara: Was there anyone from the current Iraq conflict that you considered as a candidate for the book, or is it just too early for that?
McGee: Too early. I was thinking about doing something on Iraq and Afghanistan, but it's not resolved yet and it is still a mess. I hate to say it that way but it is.
O'Meara: Do you personally have a favorite in the book?
McGee: Absolutely. John Stark is a personal hero from the first time I read about him 40 years ago. Do mention this. I think I used the term hero maybe two or three times in the book. I didn't want these people to be considered as heroes unless the reader wants to consider them that way. I think almost any veteran would say the same thing, that "I'm not a hero, I'm a survivor."