Award-winning alumnus completes triology

Rick Atkinson

ECU alumnus and award-winning writer Rick Atkinson

By Steve Tuttle
East editor

Members of the Greatest Generation may enjoy reading Rick Atkinson’s book about their greatest triumph – the liberation of Europe during the final battles of World War II.

“The Guns at Last Light” is the final volume of Atkinson’s Liberation Trilogy. In the first two books, he takes the reader into North Africa and the pivotal invasion of Italy. In this final installment, the Allies are poised to invade Europe on D-Day and fight their way to Berlin.bookcover1

Atkinson graduated from East Carolina University in 1974; eight years later, as a reporter for the Kansas City Times, he won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting on the horrific casualties suffered in Vietnam by the West Point Class of 1966. He’s been writing about soldiers and wars ever since.

He won a second Pulitzer in 2003 for “An Army at War,” the first book in the Liberation Trilogy. Interviewed for a 2009 story in ECU’s East magazine (, Atkinson said he heard that news while pushing toward Baghdad as an embedded reporter with the 101st Airborne Division.

Released May 14 by Henry Holt & Co., “Last Light” is not a book for the timid. One reviewer described it as “the literary equivalent of the first 15 minutes of ‘Saving Private Ryan.’”

Atkinson majored in English at ECU and has said he never intended to become a writer. ‘Like many people, I blundered into my life’s work,” he said in the East story. “So I’m not sure there were many influences from college in play. I didn’t work for the school newspaper. I studied literature so I came to appreciate fine writing but can’t say I practiced it much at that time.”

Atkinson was a student in ECU’s budding Honors Program, where he fell under the influence of professor David Sanders, who led the program.

“He and others led me to believe that I had a talent for writing, and that perhaps I might even make a living at it,” Atkinson said during a recollection for an Honors College anniversary event.

“Forty years later I remain deeply imprinted by the Program and the Caring teachers who helped me to find my pole star.”