Andrew Carroll’s book takes an intimate look at WWI hero Gen. John J. Pershing

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Richard Limber's work is now hanging at the West Tisbury library. —Stacey Rupolo

We know that U.S. General John J. Pershing commanded more than 2 million American soldiers, sailors, and Marines in Europe during World War I.

What we did not know until Pulitzer prizewinner Andrew Carroll lifted the veil in “My Fellow Soldiers,” recently released by Simon & Schuster, was the agony and character of the man we knew in history books as “Black Jack” Pershing. The book title gives us a glimpse into Pershing the man. At the end of the war, Pershing wrote a letter which begins with “My fellow soldiers …” thanking them for their efforts. Pershing sent a copy of the letter to every soldier under under his command.

Mr. Carroll’s life work, it would seem, is to provide insight into the men and women who fight and die in our wars. In “My Fellow Soldiers,” Mr. Carroll uses previously unpublished letters and correspondence of General Pershing to his family and friends. They portray a man overwhelmed by the loss of his wife and three daughters in a 1915 house fire, yet responsible for the lives of millions of fellow Americans and for engineering victory in what was termed at the time “the war to end all wars.”

Mr. Carroll will be on-Island to discuss his latest book on Sunday, May 21, at 4 pm at the new Bunch of Grapes bookstore location at 23 Main Street in Vineyard Haven, steps away from its former location.

In his correspondence, Pershing reveals the depth of his personal agony accompanying the loss of his family three years before the outbreak of World War I, a spiritual crisis that had to coexist with his personal responsibility for the lives of millions on the battlefields of Europe in a war that claimed 11 million military lives on both sides, and wounded three times that many.

Mr. Carroll has spent much of his professional life chronicling the other war that combatants wage with themselves in the time of deadly conflict. In 1998, Mr. Carroll founded the Legacy Project, an all-volunteer initiative that honors veterans and active-duty troops by preserving their wartime correspondence.

The Legacy Project has been re-named “The Center for American War Letters,” and is now part of Chapman University in Orange, Calif. The center says its “mission is to continue to collect, preserve, and promote extraordinary war-related correspondences so that this generation and those to come will better understand the sacrifices and experiences of U.S. troops, veterans, and their loved ones.”

In that mission, Mr. Carroll has amassed more than 100,000 pieces of wartime correspondence from across the U.S. and from more than three dozen countries, including Iraq and Afghanistan, and he has a collection of previously unpublished letters and emails that encompass every war in U.S. history. Mr. Carroll has donated the entire collection to Chapman University.

Despite our continuing hunger for superheroes, in recent years Americans have also demonstrated a passion to know the people behind the hero mystique. We have the appeal of that search in successful books by local authors, including the life of abolitionist John Brown by Tony Horwitz (“Midnight Rising — John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War”)

and John Hough Jr.’s well-researched fictional account of Gen. George Armstrong Custer (“LIttle Bighorn”).

Mr. Carroll has edited several New York Times bestsellers, including “War Letters,” “Letters of a Nation,” and “Behind the Lines.” “War Letters” inspired the critically acclaimed PBS documentary of the same name, and the audio version of the book was nominated for a Grammy.

He also edited, on a pro bono basis, “Operation Homecoming: Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Home Front, in the Words of U.S. Troops and Their Families.” The book inspired the film “Operation Homecoming,” which was nominated for an Oscar and won two Emmy Awards in 2007.

Mr. Carroll is the first author to speak at the new Bunch of Grapes location, 23 Main Street, Vineyard Haven, on Sunday, May 21, at 4 pm. The bookstore’s new two-story location was formerly occupied by Juliska.