Those who live through pivotal world events rarely have the opportunity to share their firsthand experiences. Therefore, the history that’s passed down is sometimes limited.

But in today’s audio program, you’ll hear the voices of eight veterans who each contributed to the chapter on World War II in our country’s history.

Their stories are representative of the 16 million Americans who came of age during the Great Depression. As a generation, they unselfishly answered the call to serve their country following the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

Yet few of them told their stories and some didn’t want to – or couldn’t – reexamine those painful wartime memories. 

Doing their duty – and then some

Like so many World War II veterans, my friends, Otto, Pete, Doc, Charlie, James, Dennis, James and Elton, flatly refused to be described as heroes. These elderly gentlemen with ties to Fayette County, Texas, humbly maintained that they were only doing their patriotic duty to ensure their country’s freedom.

They said the only war heroes they knew were their comrades who never made it home.

If you loved and respected a World War II veteran, hearing these candid stories and listening to the era’s great music may evoke meaningful memories. I hope so.

They were young once

The eight veterans who tell excerpts of their personal stories are pictured below. Their black and white photos date back to World War II; I shot the color pictures when I visited them 70-plus years later.

Otto Kunze, U.S. Army
Pete Glaiser, U.S. Navy
Dr. E.L. Fitzpatrick, U.S. Navy
Charlie Ripper, U.S. Navy
James Ephraim, U.S. Army Air Corps
Dennis Rudloff, U.S. Army Air Corps
Otto Fuchs, U.S. Army
Elton Jochen, U.S. Navy

Sit back and enjoy the soundwaves

Click here to listen to the 33-minute program.

If you wish to listen to part of the radio show later, note the time code where your session ends. When you return to the post, move your cursor along the time code bar of the audio program and click to begin listening where you left off.

Their interviews are inspiring still

Sitting across the kitchen table from these veterans and listening to their memories was fascinating, haunting and educational. I visited with them, along with other local veterans, in order to compile their stories in a special newspaper insert. It was published by The Fayette County Record in La Grange, Texas, on Aug. 14, 2015. That date marked the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Click to visit the paper’s website: The Record.

Joe Bargas of Holman, Texas, whose story first appeared in the special newspaper supplement honoring local WWII veterans, was all smiles when I delivered his copy of the publication in 2015.

That fall, I was grateful to work with Dan Mueller of KVLG/KBUK radio in La Grange, Texas, to create this audio memorial to all our World War II veterans. The station plays it every year for its listeners. KVLG

At the urging of community members, the veterans and their families, I took the next step. I compiled a book that includes the original 40 stories that were in the newspaper. It gave me the chance to add to their stories and include more photos.

I also was fortunate to add the stories of additional local veterans, as well as some of the women who waited for them on the home front.

World War II in their own words

Veterans’ Voices and Home Front Memories features 63 first-person accounts of World War II, plus several hundred photos that have never before been published.

This 303-page compilation won a Will Rogers Medallion Book Award in 2019.

I’m pictured with World War II veteran Charlie Ripper, who convinced me to research and write Veteran’s Voices and Home Front Memories. He’s a very persuasive gentleman!

Praise from non-fiction author Annette McGivney

“In this age of short attention spans, news evaporates and history is too often forgotten. Thanks to the careful reporting and heart-felt writing of Elaine Thomas, the stories and sacrifices of 63 World War II veterans in Fayette County, Texas, will live on forever. Have a tissue handy when you read Veterans’ Voices because this tribute to the Greatest Generation will bring tears as well as a much-needed reminder that we have a lot to learn from the wisdom of our elders.” Annette McGivney

The Greatest Generation’s light grows dim

The ranks of the Greatest Generation are dwindling rapidly. It is estimated that less than 240,000 of the 16 million World War II veterans remain alive in the U.S. today. Sadly, of the eight men you heard on this program, only Otto Fuchs is still alive.

Gone but never forgotten

In honor of those who shared their stories in Veterans’ Voices and Home Front Memories, I am donating proceeds from book sales to fund student scholarships at Blinn College. Blinn

U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s words still resonate

We have faith that future generations will know that here, in the middle of the 20th century, there came a time when men of goodwill found a way to unite, and produce, and fight to destroy the forces of ignorance, and intolerance, and slavery, and war.

We, as a nation, always will be grateful to our World War II veterans for their contributions. On Veterans Day, please remember to remember. To all veterans, thank you for your service.

Who will you be thinking of on Veterans Day?

Read more stories about heroes

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