Artfully Edmonds profile: ‘American St. Nick’ spotlights Edmonds WWII veteran

1 Cpl Harry Stutz
Edmonds resident and WWII veteran Harry Stutz (1917-2011), inspiration for the book “American St. Nick”.

My Edmonds News was contacted this past month by newscaster and author Peter Lion with news of his book about Edmonds resident and World War II veteran Corporal Harry Stutz.

Titled “American St. Nick,” the book tells the story of how Harry Stutz earned his title.

The book has been favorably reviewed by notables like Tom Brokaw and Willie Geist, of NBC’s Today Show. Of “American St. Nick,” journalist and TV talk show host Meredith Vieira says, “On December 5, 1944, against the bleak backdrop of World War II, a group of American GI’s unleashed the strongest weapon in their arsenal: humanity. Peter Lion recaptures the magic of Santa to transcend even the darkest of times. The children of Wiltz, Luxembourg, never forgot their American St. Nick. And now neither will you.”

In a salute to all of our storied service members on Veterans Day, My Edmonds News (MEN) provides the story of how one Edmonds resident made a mark on the lives of many youngsters during his wartime station in Germany:
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MEN: Peter, thank you very much for joining My Edmonds News for this exclusive interview. Let’s begin with how you first became aware of Harry Stutz.

PL: I first heard about this story nearly 20 years ago when the son of the “American St. Nicholas” told it to me. Harry’s son, an acquaintance of mine, was planning a family vacation to Luxembourg in November of that year. When I asked, “Why Luxembourg?” he explained that his family was going there for “this thing” his dad had done during the war.

Having always had a keen interest in all things WWII, and with my interest piqued I naturally pressed him for details. That’s when Harry’s son gave me the 5-minute thumbnail version of this story.

When he finished I picked my jaw up from the floor and remarked what a great story this was and that someone should write a book about his father’s achievements. No less than a moment later I decided that someone should be me and I asked for his dad’s phone number.

When I finally had my list of questions prepared, I called Richard Brookins a.k.a The American St. Nicholas and introduced myself. I told Mr. Brookins my plan to write a book about his experiences in Luxembourg. Without hesitation Brookings said, “Well then, the guy you really need to talk to is Harry Stutz. This whole thing was his idea.”

1 Book CoverSo, after exhausting my questions for Brookins, the next call I made was to Harry Stutz in Edmonds. Richard Brookins was right, this whole “American St. Nicholas” thing started thanks to Corporal Harry Stutz wanting to do something nice for the children of Wiltz-Luxembourg one particular St. Nicholas Day.
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MEN: Is this your first published book?
PL: Yes, and no. This was the first time I thought I actually had a great story that would make a good book. I had written numerous articles on a freelance basis for different magazines and e-zines, but when I heard this story, I knew then it was more than a 3,000-word magazine story.

I first wrote the story in 1996 and later followed it with a book published in 2003. The 2003 edition expanded on the actual events.

However the current-selling second edition builds on facts that came to light after the original title was published. It turns out the story of “The American St. Nicholas” was even more remarkable. You see, after the first edition came out, many more people came forward that I hadn’t encountered in the original writing with their take on this remarkable story. They brought with them photos from their private collections.

As the years went by, I ended up with so much more material that I decided when the time was right I would rewrite the story as it actually happened. That “right time” was back in 2014 when 92-year old Richard Brookins told me he was going to Wiltz one more time as the American St. Nicholas.
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MEN: Peter, how did you go about your research?

PL: Again, I’ve always had an interest in WWII. It is one of — if not the most — defining times in world history. Having had uncles who fought in the war I was always interested in all the stories from that period.

When I heard the “American St. Nicholas” story . . . well . . . as I said, it was too good to pass up.

Researching proved much more difficult that I had anticipated. Because this is a true story, I had to take the various viewpoints on the story as related to me from the actual people and put them together while contextualizing everything with what was happening at that time from an historic perspective. That wasn’t always easy to do, but in the long run it paid dividends.

Many hours of researching the time and place of those in the story yielded some historical references that played a part in the telling of the story. Those references were not necessarily part of anyone’s recollections; however they helped complete the story and tell it more vividly.

One example comes from Mr. Brookins rendition of his time in the town of Clervaux at the start of Battle of the Bulge. He recalls the town being hit with artillery and mortar fire on the morning of Dec. 16, 1944. What he didn’t know and what came to light only after the war, was that some of that artillery and mortar fire was being directed by German loyalists huddled in the basement of a pharmacy in town; the same pharmacy Corporal Brookins had run past trying to get from one end of town to the other during the shelling.
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MEN: Have you visited the locations in your book?

PL: I don’t think you can tell a story like this without standing on the site of where the events took place; so yes, I did.

‘Seeing the Wiltz Castle and courtyard, the Ardennes and Huertgen Forest, the town of Clervaux. To appreciate what was happening at the time and indeed what still happens, one has to be there.
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MEN: Peter, our readers will undoubtedly want to know more about you.
PL: I’m a New Englander, born and raised. I went to college to study journalism and graduated in 1983 with a BA having minored in communications and English.

Through a somewhat serpentine career route I wound up in television where I have been a producer/director for more years than I care to count. Along the way however I managed to win seven Emmy awards for my work.
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MEN: Have you ever visited Edmonds? Maybe you’ve lived here?
PL: Unfortunately no, I have never been to Edmonds.
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MEN: Are you planning to write other books?
PL: While I hope to write more books, right now “American St. Nick”, having just been released, is taking up a great deal of my time with PR/marketing events.
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MEN: In closing are there any questions you hoped we’d ask that we didn’t?
PL: A couple of things worth noting. First, there is a film documentary based on and titled after the book. That film as produced by the WWII Foundation. The U.S. film premiere is scheduled for Nov. 10 in Rochester NY where Mr. Brookins still lives. Two weeks later the European film premiere will take place in Wiltz, Luxembourg where the whole story began. At that time there will also be the release of the European translation of the book. That translation (it should be noted) was funded by the US Embassy in Luxembourg.

And speaking of Wiltz, it’s also worth mentioning that at the Wiltz Castle that stands at the north end of town, there is a museum dedicated to all the soldiers who fought to defend and ultimately liberate Wiltz, especially during the Battle of the Bulge.

Harry Stutz was part of the last group of soldiers who stayed behind to defend the town, buying time while the rest of the soldiers and some townspeople retreated. Part of the museum at the Wiltz Castle is dedicated to Harry Stutz.

Aside from a bronze bust of Harry is a collection of personal papers and photographs from his time in Wiltz during the war. To the people of Wiltz, Harry will always be remembered and revered as a hero in every sense.

The people of Edmonds should feel the same.
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Peter, undoubtedly that will be the case as Edmonds’ residents learn the story of “The American St. Nicholas”. Thank you for granting us this interview, and let us know in advance if you ever have an opportunity to visit Edmonds.
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MEN Note: Harry Stutz served in the US Army Air Force during WWII and attained the rank of TEC 5. He died on Dec. 17, 2011 at the age of 94. Harry Stutz is buried at the Edmonds Memorial Cemetery.

— By Emily Hill

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