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VOL. 126 | NO. 227 | Monday, November 21, 2011

Extraordinary Valor

Author Stanton shares heroic tales with Lipscomb Pitts Breakfast Club


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The Lipscomb Pitts Breakfast Club welcomed best-selling author Doug Stanton as its guest speaker for November.

Best-selling author Doug Stanton, left, signs copies of his books during a Lipscomb Pitts Breakfast Club reception at Independent Bank headquarters on Thursday.
(Photo: Lance Murphey)

“Doug is an amazing storyteller, and we are really excited to have him as our speaker this month. November features the combination of Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving, and we wanted to recognize and show our gratitude for the extraordinarily heroic service of our military veterans,” said Susan Stephenson, co-founder of Independent Bank, this month’s event host.

Stanton, who also spoke at the Memphis Botanic Garden Friday, Nov. 18, wrote the New York Times bestsellers “Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of U.S. Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan” and “In Harm’s Way: The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors.”

He spoke to a group of approximately 50 guests at a reception Thursday, Nov. 17, at Independent Bank Tower on Poplar Avenue about his decision to become a writer, and he shared some of his experiences of writing his two books.

“Looking back at the stories I’ve written, they are about ordinary people doing extraordinary things,” said Stanton, who conducted more than 100 interviews for “Horse Soldiers.” “I approached the writing as a storyteller trying to connect with the soldiers as human beings that faced extraordinary situations. I like stories about people in extreme situations that are dealing with very serious questions that must be solved both mentally and physically.”

The secret mission of the U.S. troops in “Horse Soldiers” was to secure northern Afghanistan by advising and bringing together the warring tribal factions that formed the Northern Alliance. Stanton compared the grass roots strategy in Afghanistan to smart practices in the business world, where positive change comes from finding common ground instead of using blunt force.

“You move into a room with opposing factions or ideas, and you try to create consensus,” he said.

Stanton stressed that a major challenge for the country will be how to reintegrate the troops into society once they return from service.

“The next wave that we’re going to face in all of our communities is the returning veterans, and that’s really going to be a challenge,” Stanton said. “It’s going to take tons of heart and strategic municipal sense to absorb the needs and wants of a group of people [the troops] that most of us have very little contact with. Many of them are surviving injuries that would have killed someone in Vietnam. I feel thankful that I’ve gotten the chance to know some of them.”

Last week, Stanton traveled to New York City for the 2011 Veteran’s Day Parade on Nov. 11 and the dedication of an 18-foot Horse Soldiers statue created by Douwe Blumberg. Several soldiers featured in Stanton’s book, along with other Special Forces troops, were on hand.

Best-selling author Doug Stanton speaks to employees of Independent Bank and others during a Lipscomb Pitts Breakfast Club reception last week. Stanton is currently editor at Men’s Journal.
(Photo: Lance Murphey)

Five years ago when Stanton started “Horse Soldiers,” he could not even find the original 12 horse soldiers. So it was especially touching that they were publicly honored.

“It’s come full circle since I started on the book five years ago,” said Stanton, who told the crowd that many of the troops were originally concerned of being tracked down and killed once they returned from duty.

“Horse Soldiers” is in development to be made into a film by Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and it could debut in 2012.

Stanton’s work on his two books grew out of reporting assignments on the topics. Prior to working on his books, Stanton also worked for nine years writing primarily about movie stars for magazines. His profile assignments led to the chance to play basketball with George Clooney and take an acting lesson from Harrison Ford.

“I think I was successful because I tried to write about who they were when no one was looking. I tried to take extraordinary people and make them ordinary,” said Stanton, who is a former contributing editor at Esquire and Sports Afield and now is a contributing editor at Men’s Journal. “I was never really wowed by ‘celebrity,’ and I think they appreciated someone asking them real questions.”

Friday morning Stanton planned to speak about how the horse soldiers’ training kept them alive and the importance of being prepared for failure, something that was instrumental in the troops’ training and survival.

“Everyone fails at some point in the life, and it’s really important how you recover from and respond to that failure,” he said.

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