About Editing and the Editor: An interview with David Scott Stieghan

  1. ) Why did you want to edit this book?Until now, the only copies available were unfortunately nearly one hundred years old, and they were getting hard to find. When I was presented with the opportunity to edit a series of classic World War I books, the choice was simple. Not only have I always wanted to make Over the Top more widely available, but also I have wanted to edit it to make it more accessible to modern readers.
  2. ) What prepared you to edit Over the Top for modern readers?I enjoy the study of the Great War, or World War I, and have for over forty-five years. I have been reading general histories and tactics manuals as well as collecting militaria from this period all my life. Through the 1980s and 1990s, I sponsored Veteran’s Day events for surviving Doughboys and interviewed all that I could. In 1983, I escorted Sergeant Alvin York’s widow, Gracie, and a son and daughter, along with twenty-eight World War I veterans, across a football stadium at a Veteran’s Day halftime football game at Middle Tennessee State University. I, and the other members of the ROTC rifle drill team, wore historic American uniforms. I chose to wear the Doughboy uniform and to meet the oldest veterans who were to attend the game. The veteran Doughboys made a great impact upon me, and I continued to seek them through my years serving as an Army officer, and for years beyond. They were a great inspiration to me. The vast majority of veterans do not write of their experiences, and most will not share them with one who was not also involved in the war. The more I studied the dwindling number of Doughboys and listened to what they had to share during my interviews, the more I began to understand the horror of trench warfare and how they were permanently affected after facing modern killing machines.One of the film projects I worked on as a technical consultant resulted in the mini-series “Truman,” starring Gary Sinise. I was initially hired to provide uniforms and props, but the director began to use me in front of the camera for the three World War scenes and used my suggestions to improve action and dialogue. My experience as a Field Artillery officer, military historian, and countless Doughboy interviews became an asset for the director to tap in making “Truman” entertaining and historically accurate, particularly Sinise’s portrayal of Truman’s service as a Field Artillery battery commander. I have also made appearances in uniform in documentaries as an actor and also as a subject-matter expert in other history television programs. I believe that what I learned from Doughboys, and from Empey’s writings, better equipped me to understand the experience of the Great War.
  3. ) As editor, what interested you in Over the Top?Empey tells his story of fighting as a British Soldier from an American point of view. He does not take himself very seriously, but he does consider his efforts as part of something that is serious. Empey only hints at his pre-war experience in the book. He discretely censors many locations in an attempt to protect wartime intelligence. What makes it a fascinating book to those who wished to get a sense of the new style of war in 1917 are the same characteristics that make it informative and interesting to a modern audience. One would have to read a number of books, or collections of letters, by other veterans to enjoy the same level of detail offered by Empey in Over the Top. Every few years when I reread the book, I find new details, and that is fascinating.