Research into an obscure play led author to write aviator’s biography

Posted Dec. 23, 2011, at 1:35 p.m.

Reading one book led Dr. David H. Bergquist, Ed.D., to write another book: “Prelude to Courage: An Air Warrior’s Journey of Faith,” which details the life of Lt. Austin Rodney Keith, an Army Air Force aviator from Bangor.

Writing about “a Bangor boy” made sense for Bergquist, who lives with his wife Laureen in Hermon. “I grew up in Bangor” and graduated from Bangor High School in 1962, he said. While earning a bachelor’s degree in education at the University of Maine, he majored in English and minored in history before graduating in 1966.

Like Austin Keith, who also attended UM, Bergquist joined the Army, in his case the Maine Army National Guard and duty with the 262nd Combat Engineer Battalion. Bergquist later earned a master’s degree in education (with a focus on history) at Orono.

His career took Bergquist across the United States to Lincoln, Neb., where he earned his doctorate from the University of Nebraska in 1973. “I went into college administration and worked at Becker College in Worcester, Mass. and Leicester, Mass.,” he said. Becker awarded him an honorary doctorate in humane letters when he retired as the dean of the college in 2003.

“I came back to Bangor and worked as a consultant at the [Eastern Maine] Community College for a while,” he said. Since 2005 he has worked for the Bangor School Department as a tutor in the English As A Second Language program.

Not long ago, officials with the Bangor Adult and Community Education Program asked Bergquist “to develop a series of lectures for their night seminars.” He also wrote articles “mostly with a World War II focus” for Echoes magazine.

Bergquist often did his research at the Bangor Public Library, where he would walk past the Book of Honor that details the 118 Bangor men lost during World War II. One day he read the account about Austin Keith, a B-29 Stratofortress pilot lost with his crew after a mid-air collision over the Pacific Ocean in late February 1945.

Bergquist noticed that Keith had written a one-act play titled “Prelude to Courage.” Finding no mention of this play in the library’s extensive archives, Bergquist widened his search to Special Collections at UM’s Fogler Library.

There, in the Bricker Collection, “were 95 boxes filled with material,” including World War II correspondence between UM Professor Herschel L. Bricker and many former students, Bergquist said. Assisting him in finding information about Keith’s play was Debbie Averill, the Bangor High School librarian. She is also deeply interested in history.

“In the 93rd box, we found the play, as well as other letters from Austin” and other UM students who went off to war, Bergquist said.

“I had learned enough about Austin that I realized I should write a book about him,” he said.

Following every possible lead as every good historian is wont to do, Bergquist also traveled to Guilford, N.H., to meet Tom and Nancy Marcoux. In the past they had cared for the ailing Marion Keith, Austin’s sister. She had much material related to Austin; after Marion died, the Marcouxs kept that material, and Nancy “gave all this to me to use in the book,” Bergquist said.

“It gave me enough material to write about him (Keith),” he said. Taking his book’s name from Keith’s play, Bergquist penned “Prelude to Courage” as “a compelling story of a Bangor boy who knew what he wanted to do with his life.

“He was a natural born actor” who performed with theatrical groups at BHS and UM, Bergquist noted. Before enlisting in the Army Air Force, “he had never been in a plane. It opened up a whole new world for him. He was a natural born pilot.

“He was into the ROTC and the parading, kind of like an extension of being in the theater,” Bergquist said.

After completing “Prelude to Courage,” he pitched the manuscript to Heritage Books Inc. “They said they were interested in the book,” he said.

Written as a biographical narrative and well illustrated with photos, “Prelude to Courage” appeals “to people that want to read World War II stories, people that want to read an inspirational story,” Bergquist said. The book reveals Keith’s search for a spiritual meaning to his life; he was baptized while in the Army.

Priced at $22.00, the soft-cover “Prelude to Courage: An Air Warrior’s Journey of Faith” contains 141 pages, including the bibliography and index. The book is available at:

• www.heritagebooks.com;

• www.amazon.com;

• www.langtoninfo.com;

• www.shopping.com.

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