RED BANK,NJ - It was the pride and admiration he had for the roles his father and uncles played in World War II that first led Paul Zigo to research and learn more about that period of American history. Today, ZIgo is recognized as an expert in the field, has written and edited three books, and is a frequent lecturer as well as founder and director of the World War II Era Studies Institute.
Zigo has outlined a series of events in which he is participating in several different branches of the Monmouth County Library system throughout 2018 as well as at the Headquarters Library in Manalapan. His lectures throughout the year will cover a variety of aspects from the Tehran Conference in 1943, D-Day Campaign in 1944, and the invasion of Sicily and Collapse of Fascist Italy through the start of the Central Pacific Campaign.
The fast-paced speaker, who is also a college history professor and a retired colonel in the US Army after serving 30 years in the military, laments the fact that while his lectures are widely acclaimed and attended, he has noticed a dearth of young people attending.
“Our young people are simply not learning modern American history anymore,” he said sadly, “and the danger is, when you don’t know and understand history, it can repeat itself.” Zigo likened the rapid increase of Isis and its attempts to create a new world order to Nazi Germany’s attempt to do the same throughout Eastern Europe before the United States entered the War. “Parents should bring their children to any opportunity to learn more about what went on during the lives of their grandparents and great-grandparents,” he said.
While he falls short of criticizing the nation’s educational system, Zigo said the increased importance and mandate for STEM , the emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math, has reduced history and social studies classes in many cases, to electives. “Look what our young people are missing, “he said.
The move started, Zigo believes, when the No Child Left Behind program was initiated as a national goal, and emphasis was put on ensuring every student gets a diploma. Knowledge of American history and geography suffered with the change, he said, and as a result, the younger generation fails to learn enough about the subjects to engender a passion or at least an increased knowledge of what they have inherited.
Still, accurate modern movies have piqued the interest of the next generation, Zigo continued, pointing to excellence of Saving Private |Ryan. Movies like this could encourage a rebirth of interest in modern American history,” he asserts, “but still it’s vital to be certain the era is portrayed accurately.” Although he is widely sought after as a speaker by numerous clubs, organizations, and various other groups, Zigo noted that “not one single school has ever asked me to present a program at their school.”
Zigo’s own thirst for knowledge of America’s role in the world in the 20th century came from hearing the stories about his several uncles, all of whom served in the military during World War II. His father, on the other hand, was a skilled technician at RCA in Harrison and therefore considered essential for his work rather than the draft. But while his uncles saw battles in several different theaters of war, his father helped load ships at NWS Earle as they headed out to battle.
Zigo himself jointed the ROTC and was commissioned in the Army after graduating from Rutgers University in 1964, and later went on to graduate from the Army War College at Carlisle, Pa., as well as Temple University. After commissioning, he served in armor warfare in Germany along the Iron Curtain., Since infantry rather then armor were the preferred forces, his volunteerism in the Vietnam War was declined, and he joined the National Guard. Ironically, he saw his first combat not in Europe or Vietnam, but rather in Newark, NJ where he was assigned to quell the riots of the late 1960s and was fired on during the melees. “I’m originally from Newark,” he explains, “so I still go back there, and I can still see the bullets in the building that narrowly missed me.”
Zigo also worked with FEMA after the 1992 Northeast storms that devastated portions of the Garden State, and founded and ran the Center for World War II Studies and Conflict Resolution at Brookdale Community College for 13 years. The educational resource center is available to anyone interested in studying the impact of the war. Last year, Zigo founded and heads the World War II Era Studies Institute dedicating to furthering knowledge and understanding of the war era and its impact on history.
A prolific author when he is not lecturing, Zigo has written three books, including Witnessing History: The Eisenhower Photographs” featuring the photographer of General Dwight Eisenhower’s personal wartime photographer, Al Meserlin, as well as his latest book, “When Men Have to Die,” which he wrote with John J. McLaughlin and Marie D. Somers. Zigo has also produced and narrated a cable network series on the triumphant spirit of the 1940s era, and has presented numerous personal papers on various aspects of the war and peace stories of World War II. The Studies Institute offers speakers for organizations, clubs, school groups, as well as seminars on various subject maters from the war era.
His year long series of presentations at the Monmouth County Library are part of the Library’s program to accent history, music and films of America’s involvement in wars from the Revolution through Korea. On Feb. 28, he will also moderate a History Book Club program on Tyranny by Timothy Snyder 20 lesson on Tyranny and how to recognize its rise at the Library Headquarters.