Morgan Rielly was only 14 years old when he interviewed his first WWII veteran. Empowered by the experience and the African proverb, “When an old man dies, a library burns down,” he spent the next three years locating and interviewing surviving members of Maine’s greatest generation. “WWII vets are dying fast and I wanted to save as many libraries as I could,” Rielly says.
The result is his first book, Neighborhood Heroes: Life Lessons From Maine’s Greatest Generation, from Down East Books (May), which includes the stories of 25 veterans—both men and women.
Rielly, now 18, is his high school class president and salutatorian. A history enthusiast, he also served as a volunteer archivist at the Maine Historical Society and Museum. Knowing his way around a historical society proved invaluable in helping locate veterans across the state. Though he initially thought many would be cautious, particularly because of his youth, he says they were “welcoming and open.” He adds that many had never spoken in-depth about their WWII service until now.
Rielly sent his manuscript to a number of publishing companies before hearing from Down East. His passion for the subject was evident, says Michael Steere, editorial director of Down East. “I was impressed with him and thought there was a book there.” A few months later the teenage author had an offer.
Steele says he saw a devotion and maturity in Rielly not often present in teenagers—and it showed on the page. “I think his youth allowed him to be completely open with vets and record their stories unhindered by the jadedness of someone older.” He adds, “We hope Morgan’s youth will inspire young people to pick up this book and learn something about their grandfathers and grandmothers.”
Preserving stories is more than a passion, says Rielly, it is a necessity. “All of us have witnessed, taken part in, or have been affected by historic events, and it is up to us to record and share this with future generations in order for there to be a better understanding of not just the times we live in but human society as a whole.”
Rielly signs copies of Neighborhood Heroes today at 11:30 a.m. in the Taylor Trade/Down East booth (1124).