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04/06/2023 06:34 AM

Brett Martin: Telling the Story

Brett Martin thought he was just working on his senior thesis. His efforts, however, turned into a book about an Old Saybrook family. Photo Courtesy of Brett Martin

When Clinton resident Brett Martin sat down to write his senior thesis, he thought he was just completing one last college assignment. Instead, Brett ended up turning his thesis into a published book on one Old Saybrook family’s contributions to the war effort during World War II.

Brett’s book, For Home and Country: An American family and the Second World War, primarily tells the story of Old Saybrook resident Claude “Cabby” Zanni’s life and death in WWII. Zanni, who lived on Bokum Road, was killed in action during the war and is buried at the military cemetery in Normandy. In his research into the story, Brett discovered that Zanni had brothers who also served in the military, including one who saw action at Normandy and Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Stateside, the Zanni family had multiple relatives who went to work in local factories that were being used to make goods for the war effort.

“I feel like everything I’ve read about WWII was a top-down story about the leaders and the decisions made; I really like being able to tell a story from the bottom up focusing on this one family,” Brett says.

The book was published in 2022 in partnership with the Old Saybrook Historical Society and is available for purchase on the historical society website and at the Saybrook Point Inn.

Brett’s idea for the book comes from his time at George Washington University, where he was a history major. Brett took a class called Normandy 1944: The Price of Freedom, which “had a great reputation at the school,” he says. As part of the class, students took a trip to Normandy and were tasked with researching a soldier buried in the cemetery, writing a biography of the soldier, and then delivering a eulogy of that soldier at their grave in the cemetery.

“You had to do an investigation into someone from your hometown area who was buried in the cemetery,” Brett explains. “Me being from Clinton, I looked at the cemetery breakdown, which is by state, and cross-referenced it with different area war memorials.”

Eventually, Brett’s research led to Zanni, but finding information about him was a little tricky.

“The big break was when I realized the last name was unique, and doing some investigation, I found Claude’s younger brother’s obituary in Utah, and I found the names of some living relatives,” Brett says.

In fact, Brett was able to get in contact with Zanni’s niece, who, it tuned out, had a treasure trove of information.

“She had all this material on her uncle and family,” Brett says.

When he looked at the material she gave him, combined with some information the Old Saybrook historical society had, Brett realized the story of the Zanni family during the war was much bigger than just Claude.

“Throughout the process of researching one solider, it turned into a story on the whole family,” Brett says.

Still, even then, Brett didn’t realize a book was on the horizon at first.

“I didn’t even realize the way it was gong, then I realized I had all this material,” says Brett.

Following publication, Brett was asked to participate in a lecture in Old Saybrook telling Claude’s story in June 2022.

“It was a challenge doing the work but also really fun to tell the story. The hardest part is the stage I’m in right now. I have so many ideas for expanding on the story, and I’m not sure where to go from here. I’d like to get it republished down the road; there’s more I can give insight into,” Brett says.

Brett still lives in his hometown of Clinton. He is a 2018 Morgan School graduate and a 2022 George Washington University graduate. He is currently an assistant clerk at the New Haven Superior Court and is contemplating going to law school in the future.

“And I definitely want to write more history,” Brett is quick to say.

He says that studying the Zanni family and their willingness to help by joining the military and assisting here at home inspired him to get involved at the local level.

“I definitely came away with a sense of wanting to help the local community instead of just focusing on national issues and figures,” Brett says.

Brett recently was appointed to the Clinton Sustainability Committee, a group that tackles issues he is concerned about.

“Climate change and environmental issues are something I wanted to definitely be more involved in helping with,” Brett says.

In his spare time, Brett can be found reading, enjoying the outdoors, participating in theater, and spending time with his dogs.

Having lived in Clinton his entire life except for his time at college, Brett has come to appreciate the scenery of his hometown.

“I love the fact we have much we take for granted. I never considered why people wanted to come here on vacation growing up. We have so much beautiful land with the water but then also woodlands and farmlands and good proximity to New York or Boston. I definitely took that for granted,” says Brett.