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Pitt prof recaptures thrill of saving Pearl Harbor book

Thursday, December 07, 2000

By Cristina Rouvalis, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

This is the story of a professor and his star student, and how the professor labors for 34 years to write the definitive book about Pearl Harbor and how it almost doesn't get published.

Donald Goldstein, a history professor at Pitt, finished "At Dawn We Slept," and managed to get it published after his teacher, Gordon W. Prange, who labored over it for 34 years, died of cancer. (Steve Mellon, Post-Gazette)

But then the student performs the scholarly equivalent of a rescue mission on some 10,000 pages of manuscript.

The student is now University of Pittsburgh professor Donald M. Goldstein, and the book he rescued, "At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor," went on to be an acclaimed best-seller in 1981.

"It's a heckuva story," says Goldstein, an offbeat character who almost 20 years later, remembers the most minute details of the book. In May, he will take a book tour to promote a special 60th anniversary issue of "At Dawn We Slept" and two other books.

But he is also talking about the story behind the book, the "magnificent obsession" of his mentor, Gordon W. Prange, a professor at the University of Maryland.

The story begins in 1951. Prange has just come home from Japan, where he had served as chief civilian historian for Gen. Douglas MacArthur after World War II. He has had incredible access to the Japanese military officers who pulled off the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor that took about 2,400 American lives.

Prange has interviewed Cmdr. Mitsuo Fuchida, who led the attack, and Cmdr. Minoru Genda, who planned the attack, more than 100 times each. They were frequent house guests in Japan.

He returns to Maryland and writes and rewrites. A perfectionist, he can't let go.

Every year, he calls or writes Goldstein to say he has just finished another chapter of the book, originally to be called "Tora! Tora! Tora!"

Then one day in January of 1980, Goldstein gets a surprising call.

His professor is dying of cancer. He is worried his life's work will die with him. The editors at McGraw-Hill have stopped talking to Prange and aren't answering his long letters about Chapter 156.

"Finish the book," Prange tells Goldstein.

Teacher of year awards

Inside Goldstein's office at Pitt, military plane models and a Mexican sombrero swoop overhead, an unopened New York Times covers a yellowed newspaper clipping and a half-eaten package of crackers dribbles crumbs on thefloor.

In the middle of this landfill are hundreds of rare historical photos -- Hitler in his bunker, Genda in a chapel, Fuchida with his family. He says there's even a nude video of Eva Braun tucked away somewhere.

Rumpled and animated, the 68-year-old Goldstein looks like the stereotypical scattered professor.

But he has an amazing capacity to pull things together. Goldstein has edited or written 20 history books in 20 years, the first six from Prange's unwieldy manuscripts.

It's fitting that Goldstein works well in chaos. Prange's office, bursting with Pearl Harbor documents and manuscripts, was famously messy, too.

"We are talking about an office that makes this one look neat," Goldstein says in a voice that is both raspy and Southern smooth.

There are other similarities, too. Both men were theatrical teachers, well-liked by students.

Goldstein, who has won five teacher-of-the-year awards at Pitt, is eccentric in an endearing way. He always teaches wearing a yellow sweater because a student once told him that it meant he would give a dynamic lecture.

On a recent day, he sees a student in the hallway. "Hey partner! Hey buddy!" yells Goldstein, a professor in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.

He learned his showmanship from Prange, a professor famous for donning hats and vests and captivating students with the stories of history. "He was way ahead of his time," Goldstein says. "He was an actor."

Goldstein grew up in Hampton, Va., and went to the University of Maryland in 1950 on a track scholarship.

Prange, a workaholic scholar and a devoted rose gardener, liked the skinny miler and made him his assistant. "I was a go-fer," Goldstein says. "I would like to say I was a research assistant, but I would get books or do whatever he wanted me to do."

In turn, Prange would throw Goldstein some spending money and have him over to his house for dinner.

Then Goldstein got a master's degree in history, and wrote his thesis on Adolf Hitler, with Prange as his adviser. It took him six years to finish, completing it only after he had left for the Air Force.

"He taught me how to write," he says. "He kept shoving the thing back at me."

Goldstein stayed in the Air Force for 22 years, retiring in 1977 as a colonel.

Then Goldstein, who was married with four kids, took a job at Pitt as an adjunct professor at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.

He wasn't exactly on the academic fast-track. "I was teaching policy analysis -- awful stuff."

Never-ending project

By the mid '70s, the Christmas cards from Prange are still coming. Goldstein is having doubts that the book will ever come out. Prange has expanded it from his original idea of the Japanese point of view to include the American version, too.

Prange is anguishing over what to say about Adm. Husband E. Kimmel, the highly criticized senior commander at Pearl Harbor. "He had tremendous empathy for him," his 56-year-old son, Winfred Prange, says. "He thought he was honorable and he took the fall."

Prange also has veered off to the Battle of Midway, as well as biographies of Fuchida, the born-again Christian Samurai, and Richard Sorge, a master spy who worked for the Russians in Tokyo. Prange is working on four different manuscripts at once.

"He had swum so far out to sea from his original objective, he didn't know how to get back," Winfred says.

The editors at McGraw-Hill would send him page proofs, the final step before publication to catch typos or inaccuracies. "Now you don't mess with a final galley proof," Goldstein says. "If you change a word in a galley proof, it is big money. But he was re-writing the whole darn thing."

In March 1979, he sent McGraw-Hill more chapters, and told the editors if they had lost interest, he could pay back his advance and look for another publisher.

An editor wrote in the margin of the letter that Goldstein now has, "Oh God. See page 2 where he gives us a chance to get out!"

Finally, a green light

It is February 1980, and Prange is in the hospital, dying of prostrate cancer.

Goldstein is trying to get through to the editors at McGraw-Hill. They won't return his calls.

Finally one day, he calls the New York office at 7 a.m., and a senior editor just happens to pick up.

"Don't hang up!" Goldstein yells into the phone before persuading a meeting with him and Katherine Dillon, who had done research and typing for Prange.

McGraw-Hill agrees to let them finish the original manuscript on Pearl Harbor, but they don't want to deal with Prange. Goldstein and Dillon also have to pay back McGraw-Hill the original $20,000 advance paid to Prange.

Every weekend, Goldstein, commuting from Pittsburgh, meets Dillon in Maryland and they comb through manuscripts in Prange's messy home office. "He has at least 35 file cabinets, all chock full of stuff," he says.

There are four different manuscripts totaling some 10,000 pages. It's a gold mine of primary research. "This guy had a layout like you have never seen," Goldstein says. "He has cornered the market."

The two start the massive job of compressing the 3,500 pages of the first Pearl Harbor book down to 700, cutting and pasting and erasing on carbon paper. They edit it thoroughly, add an introduction and two chapters at the end, put in footnotes and do some rewriting.

"I knew he was dying when he said, 'Go ahead and do what you want with it,' " Dillon says. "Otherwise he would have guarded every sentence."

Prange dies on May 15, 1980, a year and half before the book comes out under a new name "At Dawn We Slept." They had changed the name from "Tora! Tora! Tora!" because the movie Prange had consulted on had come out 10 years earlier and they didn't want people to think it was an old book.

Goldstein expects to sell maybe 10,000 copies. But The New York Times publishes a long glowing review. First in hardback and then in paperback, "At Dawn We Slept" is on The New York Times best-seller list for 47 weeks in 1981 and 1982.

Goldstein estimates the book, now published by Penguin, has sold 1.3 million copies worldwide over the years. The Prange family got 50 percent of the proceeds, while he and Dillon split the other half.

"I did OK," Goldstein says. "It's still coming in."

The books keep coming

They didn't stop there.

Goldstein and Dillon edited two more Pearl Harbors books -- "Pearl Harbor: The Verdict of History" and "Dec. 7, 1941: The Day the Japanese Attacked Pearl Harbor."

With each subsequent title, Goldstein's and Dillon's names appear larger on the book jacket because they do more rewriting and interpreting. "We could out-Prange Prange," Goldstein says about writing in his style.

Along with critical acclaim, they also got some flak, too. Prange had angered other historians, some jealous, others upset because he wouldn't share the documents he had gathered in Japan.

"We inherited all his enemies," Goldstein says. "I would say, 'Don't be mad at me. I am just the messenger.' "

They also put out three other books from Prange's material: "Miracle at Midway," "God's Samurai: Lead Pilot at Pearl Harbor," the story of Fuchida, and "Target Tokyo," the story of Sorge.

With this body of work, Goldstein has a name, and publishing doors swing wide open to him. Together with Dillon, he goes on to write, "Amelia: A Life of the Aviation Legend," "The Vietnam War -- the Story and Photographs," "Nuts! The Battle of the Bulge: The Story and Photos" and "Rain of Ruin: A Photographic History of Hiroshima and Nagasaki" and many others.

But Pearl Harbor keeps coming up. Even today, people argue with Goldstein that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt knew about the surprise attack.

"He may or may not have known," Goldstein says. "But people in America don't want to give Japan any credit. Everything is a conspiracy -- 'Roosevelt knew about it. He wanted to get us in the war. Elvis is still alive' ... Hey the Japanese planned it and they did it to us. They nailed us."

In time for the upcoming 60th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, Goldstein has already become an A-list historian pundit. Last week, he was in New York to film a History Channel special, and next week he will do a Discovery Channel program.

"Pearl Harbor never dies," Goldstein says. "Just when you think it is dead, you get the call."

While academia is full of stories of scholars bickering over credit, this story is about enduring gratitude.

Prange's son, Winfred, calls Goldstein the savior of his father's work. "I think he is the only person who could have done it. He kept the book alive in the editors' minds. He gave them a manuscript they could live with. He came to the aid of his mentor when his mentor needed him."

In turn, Goldstein always will be grateful to his late history professor. "Without Prange, I am nobody. Prange made me. Without him, I am just another little old teacher."



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