OGDEN — Students got a new look at World War II last week as they got to learn from three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author Rick Atkinson.
Atkinson was in Ogden courtesy of the Ogden School Foundation. He delivered a lecture Thursday night on his World War II series to about 900 guests who paid as much as $1,500 per table to attend.
Ogden and Ben Lomond high school history students were treated to a lecture Friday morning.
He also spent some one-on-one time with 10 students Friday morning. The students were winners of a contest in which they wrote essays about the United States’ attack on North Africa in 1942 and whether they thought it was a good idea.
Atkinson’s book, “An Army at Dawn,” details that attack; many students read the book before writing the essay. Student essays were judged by Weber State University professors who chose 10 — five students from Ogden and five from Ben Lomond — to attend the Thursday evening event, spend the morning in a private session with Atkinson and receive signed copies of “An Army at Dawn” along with a $100 check. Sophomore Andrew Sheffield, one of the essay winners, was very impressed with his experience.
“I learned some things I didn’t know before about World War II,” Sheffield said.
He read the book and said writing the essay was a challenge but was well worth it. At the Thursday night dinner, he enjoyed seeing full combat uniforms on display from each stage of the war.
The 23rd Army Jazz Band Combo also played the service song for each branch of the military and the veterans stood as their song was played. Sheffield said that listening to the songs and watching the veterans was a huge highlight for him.
“It made me really think about what they had done for our country,” Sheffield said.
He also liked visiting with Atkinson one-on-one. Atkinson told the students about his journey to becoming an author and landing a job as a journalist at the Washington Post. He said once he had gotten what many considered a dream job, he felt he wanted to write books, so he quit and wrote.
“He said that was his calling and that we all needed to find out what our calling was,” Sheffield said. “I don’t know what I really want to do yet, but it made me think that I need to start thinking about it.”
Ogden Foundation Director Janis Vause said Atkinson’s time with the essay winners was “phenomenal.”
“He got really personal with the students and gave them advice and guidance,” she said.
As Atkinson spoke with a packed auditorium of history students, he told them that many of them enjoy a free life with the many advantages today because of World War II.
“The aftermath of World War II touches you every day,” he said, and explained that World War II was the impetus to the civil rights movement as well as to women gaining more rights.
Atkinson was impressed by the results of the Ogden High School Auditorium renovation and the event the foundation organized.
“All of this speaks to the importance Ogden puts on education,” Atkinson said.
Vause said the two-day event was a bonus in two ways. It raised up to $80,000 for students in the Ogden School District and gave students an opportunity to meet an author who has done great things in the literary world. She said:
“There were students that won the contest that want to be writers and teachers, and he told them just how to do that.”