Tuesday, September 22, 2009

WWII enlisted man meets a novelist and poet

Printed in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Aug. 11, 2009.

"But that's where cool Mr. Bob Schultz took over and engineered the Little Hawks to an almost unbelievable victory."

That's how Press-Citizen sports writer Gary Bales described Little Hawk quarterback Robert Schultz's contribution to the Oct. 17, 1969, inaugural football game between City High and then newly opened West High. City High won the game 26-21 and kicked off the four-decade rivalry between the schools.

As a high school senior at the time, Schultz -- son of former University of Iowa basketball and baseball coach Dick Schultz -- had little idea that he eventually would serve on faculty at Luther College for nearly 20 years and at Roanoke College in Virginia for five more. Nor could he have known that he would become a published novelist ("The Madhouse Nudes") and poet ("Winter in Eden" and "Vein Along the Fault").

And Schultz definitely couldn't have known that, nearly 40 years after that historic game, he would be returning to Iowa City to read from his most recent book, "We Were Pirates: A Torpedoman's Pacific War" (Naval Institute Press, 2009).

"When I was earning my MFA degree," Schultz told me in a phone interview, "I never imagined that I would be writing a work of non-fiction, military history."

Yet engaging military history is what Schultz and his co-writer, James Shell, provide in "We Were Pirates." In a book based on the war diary and personal recollections of Robert Hunt -- a charismatic World War II veteran who lived near Schultz in Decorah -- Schultz and Shell go on to place Hunt's experiences into the broader context of the war in the Pacific. As a result, they provide a well-written version of enlisted man's perspective that has been overlooked in the war accounts written by officers and scholars.

The book's form fits the subject well. The project grew out of Schultz's early conversations with Hunt and began in earnest once Hunt gave Schultz access to the "treasure trove" of archival material in his basement. It seems fitting for Schultz and Hunt to want to add yet another voice to their conversation to help flesh out the historic importance of Hunt's observations.

Critics have praised "We Were Pirates" for how well the authors alternate between providing the up-close and personal accounts of Hunt with passages that sweep out into a broader historic record. But Schultz said he feels most confident in the book's veracity because Hunt was involved at every stage of the writing and publication.

"If there was something that he didn't think was right, he was not shy about telling us so," Schultz said of Hunt. "He is very proud of the finished project because he thinks we got it the way he knew it."

Schultz said he already has begun another book-length work of non-fiction, titled "Father, Son and Sports." In that collection of essays, he'll discuss his relationship with his father as well as, hopefully, draw on anecdotes from his Iowa City years.

Anyone looking to reminisce about World War II -- or about how Iowa City was four decades ago -- can find Schultz reading at Prairie Lights at 7 p.m. tonight.

Opinion editor Jeff Charis-Carlson can be contacted at jcharisc@press-citizen.com or 319-887-5435.

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