ST. GEORGE — Remember. It is a powerful word, and one that was on the forefront of Southern Utah resident Jeffery McKenna’s mind as he spent the last nearly two decades working on his historical novel, which pays tribute to the heroes of the Revolutionary War, World War II and 9/11.
The book, “Saving Dr. Warren… ‘A True Patriot,'” follows a modern-day eighth grader named Steve on a journey through time as the young teen learns about patriotism and strives to tell the story of one of America’s nearly forgotten founding fathers — Dr. Joseph Warren.
Billed as a young adult historical fiction novel, “Saving Dr. Warren” weaves true history throughout a fanciful story with the goal of making history come alive for young students, according to McKenna’s website.
McKenna, who is an attorney by profession, said he has always loved teaching, particularly youth, and had lamented during his law school years that he wished he had become a teacher instead, he said.
He sees his recently published novel as an opportunity to instill a love of country and the importance of remembrance into youth.
For him, patriotism is synonymous with gratitude, he said.
“If you can infuse a love for country, they have gratitude. If you have gratitude in your heart, you have a better life,” Mckenna said.
McKenna added that if he can subtly infuse patriotism and gratitude through an engaging book, youth are likely to enjoy the ride that much more.
McKenna is no stranger to sharing his personal love of country.
A longtime Southern Utah resident, McKenna has served as an Advisory Board member under the Utah Department of Veterans & Military Affairs for the Southern Utah Veterans Home in Ivins, has been a speaker at both 9/11 Patriot Day and Pearl Harbor commemoration ceremonies, was a co-founder of the Give Me Liberty Program for fifth grade students in Mesquite, Nevada, St. George and more.
McKenna was also a close personal friend of St. George veteran, Lee “The Flag Man” Warren, who was known throughout the community for handing out American flags at patriotic events.
Warren is featured as a fictitious – though reality-based – character in the novel, McKenna said.
The impetus for “Saving Dr. Warren… ‘A True Patriot'” came when McKenna’s wife gifted him the book “Rebels and Redcoats” by historian Hugh Bicheno, written to accompany a four-part BBC television series presented by Richard Holmes.
“Rebels and Redcoats” speaks of Dr. Joseph Warren, an influential yet often overlooked leader of the Sons of Liberty.
Among the more notable things about him, the Revolutionary-era Warren is credited with being one of Boston’s foremost physicians, a Masonic Grand Master, the penner of the Suffolk Resolves and a likely grave robber.
But among the most interesting things about him, to McKenna at least, was that he dispatched Paul Revere on his famous ride through the countryside to warn the people that the British were coming.
McKenna said that while Revere was immortalized in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,” Warren was partially forgotten in history, largely due to the fact that he died of a musket ball wound to the head at the age of 34 in the Battle of Bunker Hill.
Intrigued by the man who gave orders to Revere, McKenna thought it would be fun to write a story about him. The only problem was that the long-serving lawyer did not know how to write a novel, he said.
Then, shortly after the idea came to him, 9/11 happened and McKenna knew he had to tell the story so that America’s heroes would never be forgotten, he said.
It took McKenna nearly 20 years, several rewrites and beta tests in classrooms, but the book is now available and has already started to make an impact in history classrooms in Utah.
Meghan Truman, a U.S. History teacher in northern Utah used the book’s manuscript in her eighth grade classroom as a way of helping her students understand historical events in an engaging way.
“The feedback was so positive, Truman said. “Middle school students, they’re going to tell you how they feel, and it was really cool to see students who had never been interested before in my class really come alive with his book and learn to love history.”
Truman herself went through a transformation when she read the book, she said. Truman is McKenna’s daughter, and for many years, her father would ask her to read his manuscripts, which she stubbornly refused to do.
“I wasn’t interested at all,” she said.
It wasn’t until Truman became a teacher that she sat down with her father’s book – then in its final stages – and realized its potential as a teaching tool in her classroom, she said.
“I read it and thought it could be something I could use in my classroom,” Truman said. “It walks through everything that happened in the Revolutionary War.”
But McKenna did and has done more than just write a book about the Revolutionary War, Truman said.
For Truman alone, McKenna printed and bound enough copies of the novel’s manuscript for all of Truman’s students on his own dime, she said. He then went above and beyond and traveled to northern Utah to speak to all of her classes at his own expense.
“He told me his purpose behind writing the book wasn’t about making money, it was about helping the youth of America remember its heroes,” Truman said. “It’s a driving force for him to promote patriotism to the youth.”
And though Truman is his daughter, traveling to speak about history and patriotism is something he said he willing to do for teachers and homeschool groups across the country, for little to no expense.
It all comes back to remembering, McKenna said.
“There are over 100,000 words in the English language, but which is the most powerful?” the final section of the book titled “Remember,” asks.
The book goes on to implore the reader to remember the lives lost and the sacrifices made throughout history to allow Americans their rights, freedoms and privileges:
If we fail to remember our history, if we fail to remember our veterans, and if we fail to remember those who have sacrificed for our freedom as Americans, America will lose the roots that make it strong. A tree without roots cannot survive. There are over 100,000 words, and the word remember may be the most powerful.
More about “Saving Dr. Warren… ‘A True Patriot,'” can be found on McKenna’s website.
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