Some of you may remember that I published a WWII book a few years ago – written by Harry A. Franck in 1944-45, it’s the story of the 9th Air Force in the ETO. As part of that effort, we set up a web site (cleverly called www.harryafranck.com) and sent copies of the book to many of the men mentioned in it. “Winter Journey Through the Ninth” is available through the site or Amazon, though as you might expect, after several years in print, sales have declined to what you’d have to call “minimal.”
As a result of that effort, I get lots of email and sometimes phone calls from people who typically have one of two questions:
1. “My (father/grandfather/uncle/relative/neighbor) was in the 9th Air Force, and he just passed away – can you tell me about his experience?”
Well, no I can’t. Unless he was one of the 200+ men mentioned in the book (and there’s a list of their names on the site), I have no idea what it was like for anyone in 1944-45. Though I can’t help these individuals, I do want to share the lesson with everyone else. The time to ask this question is while your *whoever* is still around to answer for himself! And I’m not limiting this just to WWII survivors – talk to ALL your older relatives and friends, help them to see the importance of capturing their stories while you can.
2. “I (or my father/grandfather/uncle/relative/neighbor) was in the 9th Air Force, and have a great story to tell! Can you help me publish it?”
Well, no I can’t, not really. “Winter Journey Through the Ninth” was definitely a labor of love, not a profit-making enterprise. No offense to anyone else’s family, but I just don’t have the passion or energy to do that much work again for someone I don’t know.
But I CAN help a little bit with both of these questions by pointing out that there are lots of people and organizations who are trying to capture these types of stories and preserve them for the future. Here’s just a few resources – either for learning about what those times were like, OR for contributing your piece of the larger story.
Library of Congress Veteran’s History Project provides forms and helpful hints on turning your notes into a story. They’ve got a whole archive of finished projects online.
The Army Air Forces Historical Association actually sell some of their collected oral histories.
The National WWII Museum has small set of oral histories, and lots of other information and events and programs.
“Our WWII Veterans” is a private organization that preserves WWII stories and also tries to help fund trips for veterans to visit the memorial in DC.
The EHistory site at OSU has a large resource set of primary sources for a lot of time frames, not just WWII. Easy to waste a lot of time looking through their fascinating info!
There are often projects for subsets of the larger “WWII” category – for example, the Oral History project at Rutgers University works hard to capture WWII stories with a New Jersey tie-in, and there are lots of organizations devoted to the sub-sets of the 9th or other Air Forces (such as the 391st Bomb Group Association.
Check out the History Channel’s “Save Our History” effort – lots of different topics, and links to resources for educators.
The important thing to remember throughout all of this is that EVERYONE’S story is valuable. Write things down, pull out the old cassette recorder, video tape where appropriate! Even just making sure that all those old photos have written captions on the back is a huge step toward saving what will become the story of your family.