Between Dreams: The Journey of Dr. Scott Zuckerman’s Dreams of My Comrades
Interviews & Features
Some of the most important things in Dr. Scott Zuckerman’s life have been a matter of coincidence—meeting his wife, Dr. Julie Asch, moving to Park City, Utah, or writing and publishing his book, Dreams of My Comrades: The Story of MM1C Murray Jacobs.
Tormented by his wartime experiences, former Navy Seabee Murray Jacobs had never revealed his story to anyone before Zuckerman. However, there were two conditions Zuckerman had to oblige by when documenting the story—Jacobs’ real name or the names of his children could not be used, and the book could only be published after his death. “I set out originally to tell the story of a man’s experience on three amphibious landings in World War II in the Pacific Theater. Ultimately, I think the core of the story is of his relationship with me,” Zuckerman says. “For that reason, I think the book has perhaps more appeal to people who might not otherwise be interested in a book about World War II, because it’s really the story of two men: a pediatrician from Brooklyn and a 95-year-old veteran from Utah.”
“I set out originally to tell the story of a man’s experience on three amphibious landings in World War II in the Pacific Theater. Ultimately, I think the core of the story is of his relationship with me.”
Zuckerman’s right—I certainly wouldn’t consider myself a history buff. But whatever your expectations are about the book, be prepared to put them aside. From the minute I read the first chapter, I knew this story was unlike any other. The conversational tone brought complex history down to a comprehensible level, and despite the sometimes graphic content, Zuckerman’s writing won’t let you feel alone as you walk with him through the intersection of personal and professional moral dilemmas.
Reading Dreams didn’t just open my eyes to a generation increasingly lost in the rose-colored lenses of history—it brought me closer to Zuckerman himself. Regardless of whether you know Scott Zuckerman, MD, or not, after reading Dreams, you’ll be walking away with a reader-author connection like none other.
Zuckerman was only in contact with Jacobs because of the former’s acupuncture business, where he visited Jacobs’ daughter at her home for treatment. “I think there are coincidences, but one has to be amenable to them and open to them in order to take advantage of them,” Zuckerman says. “Here’s a grumpy old man sitting in his armchair in the front of the room every time I come in. I think a lot of people might have been put off by him and paid him no attention. A lot of times, old people just become invisible to us, but I was not like that.”
And so began the series of interviews that would later become Zuckerman’s book. From start to finish, Dreams was an intense journey for Zuckerman, chronicling seven years from the formation of the original concept in 2010 to the book’s publishing in 2017. The emotional bond between the two men was no less intense nor complex; as Zuckerman says, Jacobs’ story is not one of heroism, and Zuckerman must examine his personal judgements. Discrepancies in Jacobs’ story lead to doubts, tension, investigation and questions that still linger after the final chapter. The ending doesn’t provide closure for Zuckerman, but as the nature of a true story warrants, he worked with what he had, even if what he had was painful. Even now as Zuckerman reflects on his final few interviews with Jacobs and how charged they were, he grows emotional. “When I look back on the project, I believe I did a service. But there’s a part of me that feels like I let him down, and that’s hard for me because [there’s] no way I can make it up to him,” Zuckerman says. “He’s gone now. I have to just live with that. His family has been extremely supportive and very appreciative of the story I’ve told, but for me, that question still haunts me a little bit. Did I let him down?”
“A lot of times, old people just become invisible to us, but I was not like that.”
While Zuckerman says he tries not to dwell on those doubts, they still creep in. Still, he’s working on making peace within the blurry lines of a story that grew far bigger than he could have ever expected. Intimate, hours-long interviews expanded into a deep dive into historical records and analysis. The trip to Louisiana in 2010 that inspired it all came full circle when Zuckerman traveled again to Louisiana to interview one of the last living members of Jacobs’ battalion. Most importantly, though, were the confrontations Zuckerman tackled with his own feelings, thoughts and judgements as Jacobs revealed sometimes disturbing information and the truth grew ever more complicated with two shocking twists. “Everyone’s story is worth telling,” he says. “The truth is not always obvious. I think that might be the most important lesson.”
Bigger still is the book’s legacy. Dreams went through the editing process twice, and while his editors tried to take out some of the more tangential characters, Zuckerman believed that telling those stories was too important to lose. “One of the things I’m proudest of but I was also a little disappointed in was that some of the men I interviewed died between the writing of the manuscript and the publishing of the book, and they didn’t have the opportunity to read the finished product,” Zuckerman says. “But, some of them did, and I’m really proud of that because they’re men whose stories are interesting and now their families … have this document of their fathers’ lives.”
“When I look back on the project, I believe I did a service. But there’s a part of me that feels like I let him down, and that’s hard for me because [there’s] no way I can make it up to him.”
Surprisingly enough, publishing was the most grueling part of the process—Zuckerman described it as “soul-crushing.” Even though he had won the Utah Original Writing Competition in 2015 and was promised a publishing deal through the University of Utah Press, the University reneged on their side of the deal. It would take two more years, 75 query letters and several scathing rejections before Dreams hit the market through Sunbury Press. “I walk away with the sad truth of how difficult it is to succeed in the world of literature, and probably true of the whole world of art,” Zuckerman says. “It’s important to support independent artists, whether they’re authors, painters, [or] musicians. It’s a really difficult time for people right now.”
Dreams of My Comrades isn’t the end for Zuckerman. The author is already working on his next book, interviewing another veteran with whom he met back in 1991. That project had been on the back burner ever since Dreams, but now Zuckerman is revisiting it with the hopes to publish by the end of 2022. Before then, you can buy Dreams of My Comrades on Amazon. If you prefer audiobooks, Zuckerman narrated the entire book himself on Audible. As Zuckerman says, reviews are the lifeblood of artists, so after you read, be sure to leave a review on Amazon.