Alumnus Among Author-Veterans Appearing at Saint Leo

October 30, 2013

Saint Leo University is hosting presentations in November at University Campus featuring three author-veterans—including Veterans Day events featuring Winston Groom, author of the popular novel Forrest Gump, which was made into a 1994 hit movie with Tom Hanks.

The events are free and open to the public. All the writers’ appearances were arranged to help Saint Leo commemorate its 40-year anniversary of educating military servicemembers, both active duty and veterans, and their families.

The authors appearing at Saint Leo have produced works including history, fiction, and poetry, and their works cover a variety of decades of American history. In fact, all the speakers are part of a wider population of writers who have produced works that try to explain or portray the human condition during times of war. Some who directly served in the armed forces during wars find they need to write about their experiences, observed Dr. Mary Spoto, professor of English. Even more people are engaged as readers, whether or not they actively served, especially now, Dr. Spoto noted. “War is so very much in front of us. It has become something we already have a familiarity with and texts bring us in deeper."

Saint Leo is pleased to present three authors who have all made significant contributions to American culture and history through their efforts.

Alumnus Gary Cooper on World War II in the Pacific

Author Gary Cooper will deliver a presentation at 4 p.m., Friday, November 8, based on his forthcoming nonfiction book Fatal Error: The Final Flight of a WWII Seaplane Bomber. Mr. Cooper is a retired U.S. Naval commander and a 1954 alumnus of Saint Leo College Preparatory School, a predecessor institution of the university. His book concerns the dramatic story of a rescue mission attempted in 1945. He will speak in TECO Hall, in the School of Business building.

Here is an excerpt from Fatal Error:

When the ordinance men boarded the plane they armed the 50 mm guns. Dale Hunt went all the way into the tail section to make sure his gun was loaded properly. Joe Garcia along with his ammunition belts squeezed into the Plexiglas bubble in the nose of the plane. Garcia was not just the youngest crew member he was also the smallest and he fit perfectly into that small space. He loved being in the nose turret with nothing between him and the enemy but a thin piece of plastic. As the nose gunner, Joe felt like he was flying the plane himself when they swooped down to strafe enemy targets. Charlie Moorfield and Kenny Crow took care of the two waist guns and the dorsal gun at the top of the plane. When they had finished loading their guns, everyone silently stowed the small arms and ammunition that they hoped would not have to be used.

 When the crew was aboard the plane, they gathered in the after compartment for a briefing. AMM1 John Igoe reported. “All systems checked and operating properly sir, the plane is ready for takeoff.”

Creator of Forrest Gump on Vietnam and World War II

On Veterans Day, November 11, novelist and historian Winston Groom will speak at the 11 a.m. Veterans Day observance in Marion Bowman Activities Center. His topic is “My Journey from the American South to Vietnam and Back.” Mr. Groom served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam.

He is most widely known for writing the 1986 novel Forrest Gump, featuring a sympathetic but slow-witted character whose life journey includes service during the Vietnam War. The title character relates the story in first person.

An excerpt from the Vietnam section of the novel reads:

 That night was long an uncomfortable. We couldn’t fly our airplanes, so’s they got to shell us most of the evenin for free. They was a little saddle between two ridges, an they was on one ridge an we on the other, an down in the saddle was where the dispute was takin place—tho what anybody would want with that piece of mud an dirt, I do not know. However, Sergeant Kranz have said it to us time an again that we was not brought over here to understand what is going on, only to do what we is tole.

Mr. Groom will be available to sign books at 4 p.m. on Veterans Day, inside the Student Community Center at the entrance to the dining hall. Copies will be available for sale of both Forrest Gump and his newest title, a nonfiction work, The Aviators: Eddie Rickenbacker, Jimmy Doolittle, Charles Lindbergh, and the Epic Age of Flight. The Aviators is an alternate selection in the History Book Club, Military Book Club, and Book-of-the-Month Club. Mr. Groom retells the stories of three men whose names were well-known to the American public during the early 20th century when aviation was brand-new, and they each contributed to its development. Then another era emerged and a new story developed, which the author begins this way in The Aviators:

When World War II erupted, all three were middle-aged, married with families, rich, and highly accomplished, having earned the right to rest on their laurels. The amazing thing is that instead they volunteered to put their lives on the line once more and took to the air on what would be their most dangerous missions ever.

A Poet on Modern Battlefields

Poet and writing teacher Brian Turner, author of the collections Phantom Noise (2010) and Here, Bullet (2005) will deliver a public reading at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, November 13, in TECO Hall in the School of Business building. He will present a more informal talk on writing at 3:30 p.m., Thursday, November 14, in the browsing area of Daniel A. Canon Memorial Library. Now director of the graduate writing program at Sierra Nevada College in Nevada, Mr. Turner served in the U.S. Army for seven years and was deployed to Bosnia and Iraq.

His poetry has been praised as powerful, honest, and sensitive. His website includes this excerpt from a poem included in Phantom Noise.

A Lullaby For Bullets

Tomorrow is made of shrapnel
and blood. There will come a time
when the trigger calls you out quickly
to the streets. And as you leave the barrel,
I can't promise you won't kill the man
who has waited all his life for the answer
to this moment, but if you lean to the right,
if you lean back and look as hard as you can
for that mountain you came from, sunlight
warming the pines, clouds approaching
from the north with a gift of silence,
if you do this you might just graze
the man's temple, so close you might hear
his name, the humming of blood
over bone, the many voices
within, the years to come.

For more information on authors at Saint Leo University, contact Jo-Ann Johnston, academic communications manager, at or (352) 588-8237.