Writer gives rough draft of history
Author Joseph Persico donates his papers to archive at UAlbany

By KENNETH AARON, Staff writer
First published: Friday, March 24, 2006

ALBANY -- Visitors to the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., can read the words local author Joseph E. Persico contributed to the monument: "Here we mark the price of freedom."

Soon, visitors to the University at Albany will be able to see early attempts at wording for the monument that Persico rejected in favor of that simple sentence.

On Wednesday, the Guilderland author and University at Albany alumnus donated that laser-printed rough draft and a trove of other papers to the school's M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives.

The papers date to his days as speechwriter for Nelson Rockefeller, a job he held for 11 years when Rockefeller was governor and then vice president under President Ford. Also included are handwritten manuscripts on yellow legal pads, correspondence with editors, publishers and other authors, interview transcripts and videotapes of Persico's appearances on television shows such as "Today" and "Larry King Live."

"The past may not be perfect," said UAlbany President Kermit Hall in unveiling the collection, "but it is a brilliant reminder of what we can and cannot do."

Persico, 75, has published 10 books, the most recent being being "11th month, 11th day, 11th hour: Armistice Day, 1918," about the end of World War I and the nearly 11,000 soldiers who were wounded or killed on the war's last day. He's currently working on his second book about Franklin D. Roosevelt.

He said he came to realize the potential value of his own papers when confronted with the first drafts of other writers. At the Roosevelt library in Hyde Park, he saw a version of FDR's "day of infamy" speech that was edited in the president's own hand.

"You're not at that level of Franklin Roosevelt," Persico said of himself. But he knew that the issues he was writing about would be of interest to posterity. So even though he already had a pretty hefty collection, he made doubly sure not to throw anything out.

Included is a rough draft on which he had begun thinking about the World War II memorial, which opened in 2004. Each sentence Persico wrote to honor the war's fallen was marked with a handwritten "Y" or "N," to indicate whether Persico thought they had a chance.

"To their loved ones they were all the world. To all the world they died for freedom." That got an "N."

"Their youth was fleeting, their cause eternal." That earned a "Y."

There is a collection of one-liners written for Rockefeller in 1968.

The materials fill 40 cubic feet of boxes.

Besides wanting to preserve his records for future scholars, Persico offered a more prosaic reason for ridding himself of the materials.

"I can't just keep them in our apartment," he said. "My wife was threatening to leave."

Kenneth Aaron can be reached at 454-5515 or by e-mail at [email protected].

All Times Union materials copyright 1996-2003, Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation, Albany, N.Y.

Joseph Persico