July 4, 2013
Local author Alan Gaff writes about American military history. He takes you into the past and details long ago, hard-fought battles and the unfortunate consequences associated with the price of freedom.With titles like Ready to Do or Die, Blood in the Argonne, Bayonets in the Wilderness and Brave Men’s Tears, among many others, there is no sugar-coating, just the cold, hard facts of the realities of war.
Some of the battles chronicled by Gaff were fought on the banks of the three rivers in and around the Fort Wayne area.
Although no longer a Fort Wayne mailman, the majority of Gaff’s books were written while he was still a mail carrier, from 1981-2009.
When asked about the extensive research involved in writing factual accounts of historical nonfiction, Gaff says he started by utilizing the extensive resources of the Allen County Public Library. Fortunately for Gaff and others searching for historical data, the library’s genealogy department is one of the best in the country. As the years progressed and the internet became a dominant force in information gathering, Gaff gradually switched to getting most of his supporting data from the web. Luckily, he has a tech-savvy son, Jeff, who lives close by and has assisted with Dad’s integration into electronic data gathering. Gaff says he initially had no idea how to navigate the internet, but dutiful son Jeff said, “Don’t worry about a thing. I’m always here to help you.”
Nonfiction history requires extensive, often tedious research, and it takes a real dedication and love of what you are doing to put in the time involved to provide an accurate and factual accounting. Gaff told me that he had a major influence in the form of an eighth grade teacher named Walter Wolfe.
“Never underestimate the power of a good teacher,” he said. “Mr. Wolfe had a tremendous impact on me through sharing his wisdom and passion for history that I not only carried into my career as a American military history author, it also rubbed off on my other son Don who is a professor of anthropology at the University of Northern Iowa.”
Not all of Gaff’s books are exclusively battle related. A few are tributes to the brave men who made the ultimate sacrifice as American patriots. Included among those are Our Boys: A Civil War Photograph Album, Letters of Lucien Upton and Civil War Veterans Buried in Allen County. Those titles are published in association with his wife Maureen.
Gaff often encounters individuals seeking the secret to writing books and getting published. His best advice” “Sit down and write it.”
He acknowledges that not every book is going to be perfect on the first draft; they always require editing and in some cases rewrites, but unless you actually ply your craft and write it to begin with, you will never know what the results will be. That’s his secret to success as an author: roll up your sleeves and get to work; then, after finishing, work on making it better.
People who carry on the legacy of history like Gaff are an important asset for our future. Without their tireless devotion and dedication to sharing the valuable resources of our past, we are bound to repeat the transgressions of centuries gone by that have resulted in bloodshed, innumerable casualties and a million broken hearts. There is an upside to all of the gloom and doom of the ravages of war which was referenced at the beginning of this article. The brave soldiers who gave their lives for the cause and left their loved ones behind did not do so in vain. Their ultimate sacrifices shaped the country we live in today, and that is still true going forward as the United States involves itself in conflicts around the world championing the voice of freedom.
A product of the Indiana education system and a Ball State and IU alumnus, Gaff has given presentations and speeches before historical societies, roundtables and seminars in Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Other states and notable locations include the National World War I Memorial in Kansas City, the Wisconsin Veterans Museum and the New York State Military Museum. He is a member of the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Fort Wayne-Allen County Historical Society, Indiana Historical Society and Society for Military History.
He and his wife operate a business, Historical Investigations, which is devoted to history, archaeology and environmental affairs. His books have won numerous awards, and Gaff plans to continue writing, researching and focusing on the lesser known aspects of military history for years to come.
Gaff has multiple publishers, and his books are available on Amazon.
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