Last week, a historian from the National World War II Museum flew to Minnesota to record the testimony of my uncle, Allen Porter. He was part of the 303rd Engineering Battalion of the 78th Infantry Division and fought across France and Germany in 1944-1945.
Like so many other men, after he returned he didn’t talk much about the war. He didn’t see what he had done as particularly notable or heroic, even though he had been awarded a Bronze Star for clearing a mine field under enemy fire (it was while the US secured the Schwammenauel Dam on the Roer River). He always said he was “just doing his job.”
During the last couple of years, he and I have had several long and fascinating conversations about World War II. What I’ve learned, and what I’ve heard from others is this: Just Ask. It is true some vets don’t, or won’t, talk about their experiences. But, others don’t talk about it thinking people aren’t interested. I also heard a WWII vet comment once that he didn’t talk about it because “no one ever asked.”
My uncle is 90 years old. His mind is still sharp and his sense of humor is still intact. He can recall dates and locations with ease. I feel fortunate — both to have heard some of his stories first-hand, but also knowing the museum has his testimony on record — because vets are passing away at an alarming rate (according to the US Department of Veteran Affairs, 492 World War II vets pass away each day).
If you are fortunate enough to know a World War II vet, my suggestion is this: Just Ask. Ask about the sights, the sounds, the friendships, the victories large and small. You never know what precious story you might hear.
Photos: Four men sitting on rock wall, circa 1945; Uncle Allen is second from left, holding the black dog. Three men standing, circa 1945; Uncle Allen is in middle. Uncle Allen cutting it up, March 1945, Königswinter, Germany.