The guy piloting the landing craft got as close to the beach as he could. I was up by the ramp when it went down. Let's get the hell out of here! Bullets were flying all over. You had to get off and keep moving, because if you didn't, you were a dead duck…
“June 6, 1944, is a day I’ll never forget,” said William E. D'Huyvetters, a 90-year-old World War II veteran. He recalls hitting Omaha Beach on D-Day in his interview here.
Stories like William’s are lost before they’re ever recorded. Everyday, World War II veterans are dying, and with them are stories of terrors and triumphs. According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, an average of 362 WWII veterans die each day and it’s estimated that only 350,000 United States Veterans of the original 16 million Americans who served are still alive. The youngest of these heroes are in their late eighties, and some are more than 100 years old.
The passing of the WWII generation
World War II veterans are a diminishing demographic, and it’s important to capture their stories now, while they’re still with us. This generation holds the stories of bloodshed and sacrifice - the stories of things they had to endure to be here today.
There are numerous benefits to storytelling. By starting the conversation with the Greatest Generation, we’re giving them the opportunity to share wartime experiences and life advice for future generations. We only have a short period of time until WWII is complete history.
Capture these stories
Fortunately, there are initiatives in place to capture these stories before it’s too late. One of which is the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project which collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war veterans.
However, a program like this doesn’t need to be government-backed. One 19-year-old made it his mission to film interviews with the remaining WWII combat veterans. With the support of donors, Heroes of the Second World War has been able to interview 849 men.
Go out of your normal social circles, venture into senior homes and talk to your elderly neighbor. If you have the privilege to work at a senior living organization, you probably hear these stories daily. A Legacy Preservation Program initiates the conversation and ensures these stories are preserved for generations to come.
When you’re speaking to a veteran, you tend to forget that the person who they were. That person in the picture, that handsome kid, is the same man 70 years earlier. It almost seems like it’s the story they’re telling of someone else. When it hits you, that you’re talking to the same person, it’s a combination of joy and sadness - this kid went through hell, just so that we could be here.
It means a lot to these veterans to create a relationship with you and feel valued. You can see the youth come out of them when they have a good conversation and they have the opportunity to reminisce for a few minutes.
You don’t need to go searching for celebrities. There are plenty of real-life heroes just a phone call away.
TSOLife (The Story Of Life) focuses on preserving legacy and passing down life stories for future generations. Inspired to capture the stories of the veterans in your care? We help senior living communities leverage technology to capture, preserve, and share the life stories of the residents in their care. Let's talk!