A few years ago we in the Education Division got the idea that interviewing Georgia World War II veterans might be a worthwhile project. The journalist Tom Brokaw had published his book, The Greatest Generation, and it started us thinking about all the stories there must be about what Georgians experienced during the war. We found a little grant money and started the World War II Veterans Oral History Project .
The project presents the story of World War II through the personal accounts of men and women from Georgia whose lives were touched by the war. Through letters, photographs, and full-length video interviews, the project makes the experiences of Georgia’s “greatest generation” available for generations to come. The project used protocols and procedures developed by the Veterans History Project of the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress. Veterans who were willing to share their stories with us were interviewed on camera. We researched and verified each detail in the interviews and scanned personal photos and other documents for inclusion. Eventually we were able to produce over 150 interviews.
Over time we heard back from families about the impact these interviews had on their lives. In some cases, families had never heard these stories, and had no idea what their loved ones had been through. We got letters and emails from families letting us know someone we interviewed had passed away and that they showed the DVD of the interview at memorials and visitations. For me, as an educator and historian, these interviews are primary sources for students to learn about WWII and the people who lived through it. It is one of the projects I have been associated with here at GPB of which I am most proud.
On a personal note, my father was a veteran of WWII. He joined the Navy the day after he graduated from High School and served as an Electrician’s Mate on a Submarine Chaser in the Pacific. We did not get to include him in the project because he was already suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease at the time we were conducting interviews. I have posted a picture of him taken right after he enlisted. He looks like the fresh-faced, innocent teenager he was. This war, like most wars, was fought by youngsters. To paraphrase Tom Brokaw, we may hate the war, but we honor the warriors. GPB’s World War II Veterans Oral History Project is one way we honor those warriors.