Competition winner pens ‘Dreams of My Comrades’
Scott Zuckerman, a Park City-based doctor, won first place in the Utah Arts & Museum’s 2015 Utah Original Writing Competition.
His manuscript for “Dreams of My Comrades: The Story of MM1C Murray Jacobs,” had taken the top award in Category B, which included biographies, autobiographies and history.
Zuckerman’s manuscript is now officially a book that is available at Amazon.com and its publisher’s website, Sunburypressstore.com.
“The story is about a World War II veteran with post traumatic stress disorder who never told his war experience to another soul, not even his family, until he agreed to have me interview him,” Zuckerman said during a Park Record interview. “But throughout the course of the process, the story morphs into the story of my journey with him to understand the truth of the history that happened to him.”
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Zuckerman’s subject, whose name was changed in the book, is the father of one of his patients.
“I do acupuncture in patient’s homes, and I had met him in 2011, just after he moved into his daughter’s home,” Zuckerman said. “It took some time to get to know him, but after we developed a rapport, he agreed to allow me to interview him.”
The veteran agreed to the interviews on four stipulations.
“First, I couldn’t use his real name,” Zuckerman said. “Therefore the name that appears in the subtitle isn’t his real name.”
The author also couldn’t use the name of his children or divulge the details of the conversations with his daughter or anyone else in his family until after he died.
“The last condition was I could not publish the book until after he died,” Zuckerman said.
The subject’s story is centered on his service in the Pacific Theater of World War II.
“He was in a branch of the Navy called the Seabees,” Zuckerman said.
Seabees were originally known as the C.B.s, which stood for construction battalion, and they were the brainchild of Read Admiral Ben Moreell, who was from Salt Lake City.
“They were construction men who were militarized, because private contractors could have been shot as spies,” Zuckerman said. “The admiral also realized it was easier to militarize construction workers rather than teach the military how to run the equipment.”
Zuckerman’s subject originally worked at Bingham Copper Mine before he got into the military.
“He had a deferment because he worked there and getting copper out of the mine was essential to the war effort, but he elected to enlist,” Zuckerman said.
The interviews started in Dec. 2011, when the subject was 95.
The depth of the interviews took Zuckerman aback.
“He did reveal things such as war atrocities to me that I had not heard as part of the Word War II history,” the author said. “Without going into specifics, there was the mistreatment of prisoners on both sides. This was something he described at very vivid detail.”
One of those atrocities was the practice of collecting “war trophies.”
“Back during World War II, in order to dehumanize the Japanese, there was a common trend of (Americans) bringing home skulls of a dead Japanese soldier,” Zuckerman said. “These were known as ‘trophy skulls.’”
Another atrocity was cannibalism of prisoners by their captors, Zuckerman said.
“These things kind of get swept under the rug and ignored in history classes, but these were some of the things that my subject touched on,” he said.
Throughout the interviews and his research, Zuckerman also saw how the media covered the war.
“We know now that the depictions of that war that have been portrayed by the media as a clean war where the soldiers were perceived as more virtuous than the later wars, particularly in the Vietnam era,” he said. “I think that has to do with the fact that there was no news footage like what we had during the Vietnam era where it was on TV.”
While those elements show up in the book, Zuckerman had a clear goal of what he wanted to do with the story.
“My initial goal was to tell my subject’s story in a first-person biography,” he said. “I wanted to be nonjudgmental and stay impartial and tell about his PTSD that followed him throughout his life for 70 years.”
To do this, Zuckerman also interviewed many of the surviving members of his subject’s battalion and waded through government documents.
“It was a joy talking with these men, and to be able to tell the stories of even those who only played just a little bit in the war,” he said.
His subject’s family also gave Zuckerman full access to all the letters the veteran sent home.
“His daughter had a scrapbook her son found in the garage,” Zuckerman said. “To this day, I have the letters in my possession. I excerpted them in the book.”
Zuckerman is grateful for the trust the family had in him.
“Even through the interviews, his daughter never asked me what her father told me,” he said.
In addition, Zuckerman interviewed his subject’s psychologist.
“He gave me permission to interview her and said she could tell me all the things he divulged to her,“ Zuckerman said. “But he didn’t give me permission to tell her what he had told me.”
The last interview Zuckerman did with his subject took place more than four years ago.
“It was quite poignant, because our relationship had come almost full circle, much to my disappointment if you will,” Zuckerman said. “As we kept peeling back the layers of his story, things became more and more uncomfortable. And at one point the discomfort on his part led him to withdraw, and we, once more talked about superficial things. He lived a few months longer after our last interview, but we never talked about the war again.”
Still, Zuckerman is happy with how the book turned out.
“At its core it’s my subject’s biography,” he said. “It’s also the story of the relationship we formed, and it’s also the story of my own journey in seeking out the truth.”
Zuckerman said reconciling truth and history was his biggest challenge.
“One of the important elements of the book is that history isn’t always what we think it is,” he said. “My research took me to different accounts with multiple eyewitnesses who gave different stories. And there were also times when I came upon willful distortion of the facts.”
Those findings leads Zuckerman to believe the book is pertinent to the modern day.
“Even thought it’s set in World War II, we are now facing the term ‘alternative facts,’ but there have always been alternative facts,” he said.
After winning the Utah Arts & Museum’s 2015 Utah Original Writing Competition, Zuckerman shopped the book around and landed at Sunbury Press.
“I am grateful for the support of my subject’s family and my wife,” he said. “The book couldn’t have been completed without them.”
For information about Scott Zuckerman’s “Dreams of My Comrades: The Story of MM1C Murray Jacobs,” visit Sunburypressstore.com and Amazon.com.
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