HJC: You were going to tell me about ordering an admiral around a bit.
TPS: Oh, that’s right. I had to order him out of his car into the passenger seat when he insisted he drive. It was dark and stormy. I had been insisting for several minutes that I drive. “No! It is my car, you are my guest, and I will drive us,” he told me several times. Well, he backed his old BMW out of the garage and was almost clipped by a passing car. My daughter was in the back seat and was shaking her head. I walked over to his door, opened it, and said, “Admiral, I know you used to run U-boats all over the ocean, but I am driving your car down these winding streets to Remagen. Move over.”
HJC: Wow! What did he say?
TPS: He looked at me really seriously for a few seconds, then he laughed and said, “Ok, ok, you have pulled rank on me. I know you are now in charge.” Something like that. I have met many German and American veterans over the years, but Topp is my favorite, perhaps because I have spent the most time with him. Jürgen Oesten is another extraordinary man, generous with his time and very friendly. It is very sad, really. Topp and so many more of these links with the past are getting up there in years, and they will not be with us much longer.
HJC: Topp wrote a very nice, but short, Foreword, that sounds like his book. Philosophical but practical. Now, what has been the most challenging thing for you, as the editor of these two projects? What has been the most interesting?
TPS: The most interesting for me is always the process — watching what only exists in my mind take shape as the artists paint, carve, chip, and produce. The “whole,”as I envision it to be, must ultimately end up greater than the sum of the parts. It can’t simply be several disjointed chapters slapped between two covers. It is the journey, for me, that is the most interesting. And it is always challenging, too, because sometimes as editor I do not receive exactly what I need or would like the first time or two around. Naturally, this is often not the fault of anyone because, as is typical for these sorts of project, individual contributors do not have access to all the various chapters, correspondence, and telephone calls that take place on a regular basis. Except for an occasional “Project U-505” e-mail I sent to keep everyone up to speed, each writer works in a sort of vacuum.
HJC: You have written or edited many books on the American Civil War, which at first glance appears a long way from the Battle of the Atlantic. Most of us can pinpoint what began our fascination for submarines, for U-Boats. What sparked your enthusiasm for U-Boat history?
TPS: When I was a kid there was some corny movie — I don’t even recall the name — where Frank Sinatra and some others raised a WWI German U-boat and used it to attack an ocean liner. I remember running to the library the next day to read more about them. The more I read the more fascinated I became. My interest has never waned.