Walter Lord’s method of research was painstakingly thorough. He took the time to write letters to all the men and women who participated in his topic of interest. In these letters, he requested the subject record their story via a cassette tape and mail it back to him by a certain date. This is the origins of the tape we have regarding Leo’s account. He would then transcribe these audio sources by type writer and send them back to the source for any revisions. This is how Leo’s account came to be typed out. Only then would he receive a final, primary source in which he would have to fit it in with all the other confirmed and corrected letters. Unfortunately, this part of the process never occurred because, as Leo admits in his hand written to Walter, he forgot.
This process leaves me with a sense of wonder because so many people respected this back and forth by responding on time. Walter must have received hundreds of tapes while writing The Lonely Vigil. Furthermore,after reviewing every tape, he compiles all these stories to tell a riveting all-encompassing tale from everyone else’s. The result is a book that sounds like your grandpa’s stories with all the details and quirks from someone who has relived the story many, many times.
Our research started with a letter too, but this was a discovery, not a response. We were able to find the original tape when Bill’s parents moved as well as some other letters from Leo’s brothers and children regarding other events in their lives. One of the letters was from Leo’s brother, Charles, who after congratulating Leo on his reception of the Navy Cross, went on to fill him in on his life. Charles had a daughter who lived in Anaheim and he loved to go visit her however every time he left, thieves would steal something from his property. He started asking the police to watch over his property because he had lost over 40,000 dollars at the time of his writing the letter. That is a significant amount of money even by today’s standards but even more is the display of brilliance in writing letters. The parts of the story Charles omitted from his letter do more for the story than the writing itself. Was it one really expensive object stolen from Charles farm or lots of little things? Did all the farmers in the area have the same problem? Would Charles ever go visit his daughter again? This was such a ridiculous thing to tell his brother by letter especially following his congratulations regarding the Navy Cross. But letters take a long time so you have to get all your stories in at once and send it off. Who knows the next time you’ll have the chance to sit down and write one.
Walter and I are both similar in our research methods in that Leo’s primary account is considered. Yet, that is where our similarities end. After reading Walter’s book, I am amazed at how many people, organizations and museums are listed in his index. He either traveled to their home or wrote them a letter. Wrote them a letter, transcribed their story, sent it back and then wrote a book. I did not have any other books on the topic nor do I know of any strangers to whom I could write a letter. The best way or the only way I know how to find people or places I don’t know about is the internet. So I googled it. Embracing the immediacy of the internet rather than the deliberate act of writing a letter, I found some books with Leo’s name. First reserving those in the library and then ordering the rest on Amazon, I waited for their impending arrival. Rather than an excitement of who will respond, I was excited for when they would arrive. The first one on my doorstep was The Battle for Hell’s Island by Stephen F. Moore. The similarities of our research methods converge again as I imagine Walter too would have started with the first one to arrive.
*Note: The photo above is a picture of Walter Lord taken from the website below.