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Fath publishes book of life in Bastrop during World War II

Tuesday, July 10, 2012 by Josh Rosenblatt

Back in the early 1940s, Dr. J. Gordon Bryson, a family doctor in the then-tiny city of Bastrop, moonlighted as a writer under the pseudonym of Pete Shady, contributing columns called “Main Street Observations” to the Weekly Bastrop Advertiser.

Nearly 50 years later, Bryson’s daughter, longtime Electric Utility Commissioner and environmental activist Shudde Fath, was busy copying her father’s columns at the Center for American History at the University of Texas in Austin when she made the discovery that led to her publishing her own book about their hometown.

“Daddy’s columns were always there on the front page,” Fath told In Fact Daily. “And as I was working on copying them I kept noticing stories next to his column that were about World War II and about people involved with the war who I knew.”

After reading through hundreds of these WWII stories, Fath, 95, decided to change focus from her father’s column to a compilation of war articles from the paper, which, she decided, would prove to be a valuable source of information for anyone interested in the role Central Texans played during World War II.

“I just slid off my daddy’s columns and slid into this other thing,” Fath said. “I decided to put together an index of World War II stories from my hometown. I thought it was important for there to be this historical record of what people in Bastrop and Smithville and these other little towns were doing.”

Fath and her daughter, Betsy Fath Hiller, compiled their index in 2005 and figured the project was done. But in 2011, the two women decided to turn the compilation into a book.

Things weren’t easy. UT Press rejected their book proposal, saying the project was “too local,” as did the press at Texas A&M. Eventually Fath and Hiller decided to self publish the book, sacrificing a little money for the sake of releasing something they felt would be an important addition to the history of Central Texas. Last September, they published their book, The Greatest Generation: As Reported in the Weekly Bastrop Advertiser During World War II.

The 380-page book is filled with articles, announcements and letters related to the war. It’s an elegant project, devoid of commentary or editorializing. The announcement of the United States’ declaration of war against the Axis powers is printed exactly as it was written on Dec. 11, 1941. Central Texas men were drafted, women joined United Service Organizations, or USO, and become nurses. Soldiers were killed, babies born, medals awarded, battles waged and, eventually, a war was won.

All told, the book contains 727 articles about 395 military servicemen and women from Bastrop and surrounding towns. Eight of those servicemen ended up as prisoners of war. Thirty-four died before peace was declared August 14, 1945.

“It was such a different time,” Fath remembers now. “Everybody went. Unlike today, when, if your family’s not involved in our 10-year wars you hardly know what’s going on. Nobody bitched at rationing or hunting up scrap metal. Those wartime jobs lifted the country out of the Depression.” For Fath, who graduated high school in 1933, the book wasn’t just a bunch of dates and events. “I knew five men that were killed, from my class and my brother’s class as well. That’s personal.”

Fath and her daughter printed the book and sent copies to the Bastrop County Historical Museum, the Smithville Public Library and the Rockne Historical Society, which runs the Rockne Museum. And though Fath’s goal has been to publicize the book to get it into the hands of as many of the servicemen and women’s families as possible, Mother Nature and her municipal responsibilities have conspired against her thus far.

“The book came out in September, the same week as the Bastrop wildfires, so a book-signing we had scheduled at the Bastrop Historical Museum went on the backburner,” Fath said. “Then I got drowned in the electric rate case, and I had no energy to do more than one thing. When I pick myself off the mat after getting beaten around on the rate increase, I’m going to get back to promoting the book and making more phone calls to contact families.”

In the meantime, Fath says she is proud of what she and her daughter have produced.

“This book will be here forever, from here to eternity, for whoever wants to know about that time and that place,” Fath said. “It’s history.”  Fath’s book is available for purchase from Amazon.com.

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