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Social Impact Authors: How & Why Author Alex Kershaw Is Helping To Change Our World

An Interview With Edward Sylvan

I just hope people can appreciate the men who fought to liberate Europe and give me my life of freedom. There are so few left and it’s worth reminding people of the sacrifice they made for democracy — a fragile thing today.

As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alex Kershaw.

Alex Kershaw is the author of numerous books on World War II, including The New York Times best-sellers The Bedford Boys and The Longest Winter. Kershaw’s Against All Odds: A True Story of Ultimate Courage and Survival in World War II (on sale March 22, 2022) tells the untold story of four of the most decorated soldiers of World War II, all Medal of Honor recipients. Kershaw, an expert historian and master storyteller, provides a compelling, exhilarating account of the heroic actions of Maurice “Footsie” Britt, Michael Daly, Keith Ware, and Audie Murphy recounting their bravery from the beaches of French Morocco to Hitler’s mountaintop fortress. Since 2012, Kershaw has led several battlefield tours of Europe and he will be leading a tour of London, Normandy, and Paris for the Friends of the National World War II Memorial in June 2022.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I was born in York, England, grew up in the Midlands. Both my grandfathers were in WW2. One died as a result of his wounds. That affected my mum a great deal of course. I’m a triplet! I had a great fascination with history from a very young age.

My one grandfather served with the RAF in Egypt and his job was to go into the desert and retrieve parts from downed planes. He always said the war was one of the best times of his life. It was full of exotic adventure for him. My other grandfather fought with the British navy and had a very distinguished war record. He served onboard the famous HMS Ajax, one of the finest light cruisers of the war. He was in the Atlantic and on convoy runs to supply Malta. He was badly wounded and died of complications from the wound not long after my mother was born. My mum never got to know him. I would have loved him to survive so I could have at least met him. He is my greatest hero.

When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?

I loved so many books. Orwell, World War !! books of all kinds. Tom Wolfe. Francois Mauriac’s “Therese Desqueyroux” changed my life because by writing about it [in French!] for an entrance exam aged 17 I got into college.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

I’m not good with directions at all and managed to get myself lost several times on a story in rural Texas about the Texas Rangers. I was without a photographer and vowed never again to do a story on my own in which I had to drive and read a map at the same time in Texas.

Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?

I just hope people can appreciate the men who fought to liberate Europe and give me my life of freedom. There are so few left and it’s worth reminding people of the sacrifice they made for democracy — a fragile thing today.

Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

Maurice Britt is one of my stars. He was a great athlete, played for the Detroit Lions, and was the first U.S. soldier in World War !! to gain the Bronze Star, Silver Star, Distinguished Service Cross, and the Medal of Honor. He’s been forgotten but was an extraordinary warrior.

Britt received the Medal of Honor for actions in Italy in late 1943. He fought so hard that he was said to have started throwing rocks at the enemy when he ran out of grenades. The eyewitness reports describe a man who just would not stop firing, fighting and pushing back the Germans. He was wounded and told to get treatment but rejoined his men. They nicknamed him “Footsie Britt” at high school because he had such large feet. At Anzio, in January 1944, ‘“Footsie” attracted German fire by doing warm-up jumps in the open — so as to know where the enemy were. He was a very colorful character, handsome, very witty, loved by his men. His arm was blown off at Anzio so he never got to play football again.

What was the aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?

I interviewed Bob Maxwell, then 98, the oldest living Medal of Honor recipient, in Oregon in 2019. He belonged to the 3rd Infantry Division and told me about his time in combat. His division gained more Medal of Honors than any other — losing more men and fighting from North Africa to the end of the war in Europe. Bob passed away in 2020 but he inspired me to write about his fellow Marne men — the 3rd Infantry Division. I visited where he fought and where others fought in Europe. That was powerful. It was such a long, long journey.

Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

A great friend who traveled around Europe with me and visited key places in the book, “Against All Odds: A True Story of Ultimate Courage and Survival in World War II”. I think the journey meant a lot to him and inspired him. We visited the spot where Audie Murphy performed actions that earned him the Medal of Honor, and it was amazing to actually be in a spot where one man had repelled dozens of Germans while firing a machine gun while standing on a burning tank. The spot is in the middle of nowhere but you realize be going there that there were so many such places where great men gave their all. We also visited Nuremberg where Michael Daly, one of the men I write about, was shot through the face, having earned the Medal of Honor, and we both were very moved as we stood where Daly almost bled to death — thankfully, he survived. On the German border, at Sigolsheim, we walked around a vineyard where another character fought so hard to save his men — Keith Ware. He later died in Cambodia in 1968. My friend has done many trips with me but we both found our journey in these men’s footsteps to be very moving — we were in places no-one would think about visiting, where you can sense the ghosts of so many brave men who died to liberate Europe, which we both love.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Protect democracy, unite people, educate young people about the war — above all, unite, try to see beyond politics and help each other. We are falsely divided. We need to look after each other, no matter whom we vote for.

How do you define Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Doing what you ask others to do. Being calm and caring under pressure. Supporting people and motivating them to help others. The men in my book did that. They put themselves at the front and showed the way. They led by example.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

1. Don’t be a writer. It’s a very stressful, very hard way to make a decent living! I’ve been a self-employed freelancer for 32 years and I only have to look in the mirror to see how being a teacher might have made more sense!

2. Try to have as much fun as possible and appreciate the good times when you do amazing things and meet incredible people — savor them. When you meet people like Max Schmeling [the boxer], Frank Zappa, it’s a great experience. Enjoy each moment! I’ve had some great experiences, some very intense, and I always try now to recognize how lucky I am to meet amazing people.

3. Learn short-hand. I’ve spent a fortune on transcribers!

4. Stay in touch with old friends. I left England in 1994 and wish I’d made more effort as those people back there are the most precious to me still.

5. Try to laugh as often as you can. Life can be grim in these uncertain times. Helping others to enjoy the moment is what I wish I could do much more of.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

It’s playing the game that counts, not winning. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs, and the goal is perhaps — just to keep going.

Is there a person in the world, or in the U.S. with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I’d like to sit down with any billionaire who had a relative serve in World War II and ask them to really support Friends of the National WWII Memorial’s education program so future generations will always know what they’ve been blessed with, and why freedom and democracy are so precious. Unfortunately, democracy is imploding in many countries and societies across the globe. Global freedom declined for the 16th consecutive year in 2021. Undermining the rule of law, attacking media freedom, perverting elections, and discrimination and mistreatment of migrants impacted the functionality of existing democracies. This has not only accelerated the immediate need for work in schools to teach the lessons of World War II, but it also requires work to be done now to build the scaffolding for a movement to ensure that our Greatest Generation’s sacrifice was not in vain.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

My website is www.alexkershaw.com.

I’m also on Twitter: @kershaw_alex

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Social Impact Authors: How & Why Author Alex Kershaw Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.