My drive to Fredericksburg was thankfully, uneventful. The rain cleared up and the Central Texas Hill Country showed it's beauty. Despite my stress, I actually enjoyed the ride out there, and I was actually able to make it on time! I walked very briskly into the National Museum of the Pacific War (The Nimitz Museum) with my prepurchased copy of The Pacific and was directed to the room the event was being held. I was one of the last people to get there so I got one of the last seats in the back rows of the room. The event was held in the George W. Bush Gallery West Exhibit Hall, a temporary exhibit gallery (that was featuring Face to Face Exhibit--a series of busts of WWII veterans). I was lucky when I got there because Hugh Ambrose had not yet arrived--his plane was delayed (in what I'm assuming was San Antonio), so I actually got there just in time. I had the opportunity to speak to a few people who had read the book and had also read the other books that the HBO series, The Pacific, was based on. The book that got the most praise was Eugene B. Sledge's war memoir, With the Old Breed. One man in particular talked about how good Hugh Ambrose's book was and also had high praise for Sledge's book. It made me even more excited to be at the event. I hadn't had time to read the book before the event so I felt REALLY unprepared, but still really honored to be able to attend.
Mr. Hugh Ambrose arrived not long after I took my seat, and he began talking about his experience in researching his book. I am going to paraphrase some of the things he talked about (I don't have any direct quotes--just notes from the day):
- His love for history and war history came from his father, Stephen Ambrose, who would take him around to different historical sites and would tell him stories as a boy.
- His research career began as an graduate assistant for his father (he was his father's TA while he was in graduate school).
- Hugh Ambrose started research on The Pacific in 2000 which resulted not only in the publishing of the companion book but also a documentary titled Price for Peace.
- He felt that storytelling was more important than just exposition and noted that Bruce McKenna liked Robert Leckie's book, Helmet for My Pillow (one of the memoirs used to produce the HBO series of The Pacific) because it connected Robert Leckie and Eugene Sledge's story--in the television series and Hugh Ambrose's The Pacific, the two do meet and exchange words).
- When Ambrose read Eugene Sledge's letters from the war, he felt there was a story to be told in addition to Sledge's book, With the Old Breed. He also said that Sledge's book was arguably one of the best memoirs of WWII.
- Ambrose also featured Lt. Austin C. "Shifty" Shofner in the book who was imprisoned in a POW camp in the Phillipines during the war. He planned the only successful American team escape from a Japanese POW camp (see Times-Gazette article mentioning this). Shofner's story was not included in the television series.
- The other soldier featured in the book that was not in the television series was Ensign Vernon "Mike" Micheel who was a Navy pilot in the war. He flew in the Battle of Midway and numerous other missions during the war (see Jax Air News article). Because the Pacific War was largely fought on island in the Pacific Ocean, Ambrose felt a Navy story should be prominently featured in the book to give a more complete picture of the war.
- He also said that knowing what the Japanese would have done in WWII had they won was essential to winning the war and referenced the Rape of Nanjing.
- He also said while he was researching Sgt. John Basilone (one of the five men featured in the book), he found that most of the stories about him were wrong. One in particular was a story about him losing his shoes and running around barefoot through battle on Guadalcanal were not true.
- He also told some stories about being involved as a consultant on the production of the HBO series and talked about what pains the entire production crew took to recreate accurate sets of the battles.
Overall, I really enjoyed the book signing. There were probably over 100 people there. Since I was in the back of the hall, I was one of the last people in line and Mr. Ambrose allowed me to take a picture of him. He even showed interest in my blog which I thought was really nice! I felt really honored that he took a few moments to talk to me despite my being horribly unprepared to ask him questions.
I have to admit that I am currently reading The Pacific and I haven't quite finished yet. I did watch the series and am rewatching it to go along with the book. The book is fairly dense, but I like it because I like the details. I am also watching some of the extras that are available to watch on HBO.com and YouTube (The Pacific: Anatomy of a War features a short Hugh Ambrose interview clip). I hope to be done reading the book in the next week or two and have a review posted soon thereafter. What I have read and seen, I really appreciate. I think it really honors the men and women that serve in our military, and I am thankful for that.
Thank you Mr. Ambrose, for my first autograph ever!