War stories

UPPER SANDUSKY – A few weeks ago, Priscilla Rall, a volunteer from the Veterans History Project, stopped in Upper Sandusky to interview Lew Gottfried. The retiree recently published a book, “Protecting Our Liberty,” which features the stories of more than 50 military veterans, most from Wyandot County.

Rall recorded a DVD with plans to include footage of Gottfried as one segment of a longer recording that is to be stored in the National Archives. Gottfried said the connection with Rall came through his granddaughter, who lives in Maryland and runs an antique shop. After Rall obtained Gottfried’s book, she called the author and arranged for the interview and recording session.

“This lady was in the store shopping. She got to talking to my granddaughter and they got on the subject of the book. … It was just a chance meeting,” he said. “They got to talking about her grandfather in Ohio doing some writing. I didn’t know anything about it until she approached me.”

The book is the most recent of nine non-fiction books Gottfried has penned. A Navy veteran, he volunteers in the local military honor guard for the funerals of local veterans. Afterward, the group would go eat, and one of the guys asked if Gottfried would be writing any more books.

“He said, ‘You ought to write one about the military people. Nobody tells their story.’ … that’s what got me started,” Gottfried said. “I started to go around to these service organizations, like the VFW, American Legion and AMVETS. That’s where I started out.”

That was about two years ago. From there, he asked around for names of more veterans. Some stories came from Fairhaven residents and from members of a three-county dart ball league to which Gottfried belongs. He also included anecdotes from his wife and another woman about their wartime contributions on the homefront during World War II.

“In World War II, everybody contributed in some way. … There was rationing on most everything farm equipment, new cars, washing machines they didn’t even make them. They all went towards the war effort,” Gottfried recalled.

He instructed the veterans to write their own stories, if they were able. Some narrated their experiences to family members or directly to Gottfried. A few of the veterans gave Gottfried copies of handwritten letters to include in the book. He also asked each person for a photo in uniform and a more recent photo to include with each account.

“There weren’t any two alike. Every one was different. We had two or three different wars they were in. It made a nice little variety,” the author said.

Gottfried did not become a writer until he was a senior citizen. He was a dairy farmer until age 50. Then, he and his wife, Fran, spent two years in the Peace Corps, serving in the Dominican Republic.

After that, Gottfried developed the Lovell Feed Mill, sold AFLAC insurance and served 10 years as county treasurer. For a time, he was on the board of Farmers Mutual.

His first book, “Traveling Uncharted Paths,” describes the Gottfrieds’ experiences with the Peace Corps. Gottfried said a friend encouraged him to write that book, but he wasn’t sure he could accomplish such a project.

“He said, ‘I’ll help you. All you have to do is write down how you feel and what you did.’ So I did that and first thing I know, it’s not so bad after all. … I wish I had started writing a long time ago.”

The first four books were published by Fairway Press in Lima. After that, Gottfried got even braver and published the other five himself.

The author was able to include his own story in “Protecting Our Liberties.” At the outset of World War II, he graduated from high school and got married. The government gave him a two-year deferment for farming, but he was called up when the need for personnel increased.

Some of the people featured in Gottfried’s book became ill or developed dementia and no longer can accurately recall much of the past. Others died before it was published.

“It was history that would have died with them if I hadn’t been able to get it before they were gone,” Gottfried said.

Now, he volunteers and tends a small garden plot at Fairhaven Home, where he and Fran reside. He is willing to help people in other counties who may be interested in collecting and publishing veterans’ stories. They can meet with him at Fairhaven for some guidelines and suggestions, e-mail him at lewgottfried@yahoo.com, or call (419) 294-2692.

All of Gottfried’s books are available online and at the Corner Store and Fairhaven Home in Upper Sandusky for $10 each, except for “Protecting Our Freedom, which is $30. All the proceeds are to be given to the Fairhaven Community.

In addition, Gottfried is to do a book signing for “Protecting Our Liberties” 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday at Paper and Ink, 98 S. Washington St., Tiffin. In September, he plans to have a booth at the Wyandot County Fair and possibly a second book signing in Tiffin.

“I’m 91 now and I think it’s time to retire. But I still want to keep busy. I don’t want to be a useless person to my country and my God,” Gottfried said.

To learn more about the “Veterans History Project,” visit www.loc.gov/vets. The Ohio Department of Aging features stories of Ohio WWII veterans with its War Era Story Project (www.aging.ohio.gov/new/storyprojects).