The window is rapidly narrowing for recording World War II veterans’ stories of service and sacrifice before their personal memories are lost forever.
According to the U.S. Veterans Administration, the nation’s surviving WWII veterans population is projected to decrease from about one million now to less than 500,000 at mid-2018 – less than four years away.
The reality that personal memories of WWII veterans are being lost is a key reason that programs like the Veterans Day Chat scheduled for tonight from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Vinings Library is special. The featured speakers for the November 12 event include WWII veteran Col. Frank Gleason, who will share his stories of service in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a very risky assignment of blasting away bridges and other operations in the Allied war effort. Korean War veteran Tony Lazzaro and Vietnam War veteran Leonard Hayes are also scheduled to led the Vinings program.
Cobb County has about 1,400 surviving WWII veterans. That figure is based on the VA’s statewide data showing almost 3 percent of Georgia’s living veterans served during World War II. While there are slight differences in published estimates of veterans populations, Georgia Department of Veterans Services officials say the 1,400 figure is a sound estimate.
A resource for saving combat veterans’ stories: The Witness to War Foundation is a leading non-profit organization for preserving oral histories of combat veterans’ stories in metro Atlanta. WTW was founded by business consulting executive Tom Beaty in 2002. WTW has posted short digital video clips of several interviews of veterans recorded in Cobb County – including Col. Gleason – on its website, www.WitnessToWar.org.
“We have conducted nearly 1,500 video interviews with veterans around the metro Atlanta area and across the country, and are always seeking more veterans to interview,” said WTW Director Emily Carley. “We interview combat veterans of every war, but put particular focus on WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War veterans due to their age and decreasing ability to share their memories.”
In addition to Col. Gleason, veterans in Cobb County featured in WTW videos include:
- Bill Couch, 9th Air Force
- Jan Harris, Army Nurses Corps
- Nicholas Pizzolato, 47th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division
- Robert Walker, 9th Air Force
- Harold Weekley, 398th Bomb Group
WTW interviews are recorded free of charge and each veteran receives free DVD copies of their interview. WTW also provides the opportunity for veterans to have their interview donated to the Library of Congress Veterans History Project in order to further preserve their memories and promote the importance of recording these histories, Carley said.