OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA -- We are prisoners of our time, captured by powerful memories. At 101 years of age Vince Maddox could clearly recall the shelling he heard from the trenches of World War I France. "We were never out of reach of shell fire," he said in 1993.
More than 20 years ago World War II veterans were still plentiful, willing and able to recall their wartime experiences. L.Z. Gentry still had his own camera, not the one he took to the battle of Guadalcanal, but very much like it. "God was riding on my shoulder and still is," he said in 1992.
A 50th anniversary of the U.S.S. Batfish in Muskogee in 1994 brought a whole boatload of mates who could recall every one of their 7 war patrols in the Pacific. "It is still a very big part of me," said one crew member.
'Hump' Halsey got his nickname from flying supplies over Burma during WWII. Frank Mile got an answered prayer when his chute blew him to land at Normandy beach. "I guess my mother's prayer brought me to shore," he told us in 1994.
Doc Wolfe delivered a baby in the midst of the Battle of the Bulge. "Artillery pieces were going over on both sides," he recalled in 1994. "No varying between us and the enemy."
Their personal stories are incredible, and better told in the first person than read in a book. The details they remember, like what it was like to pilot a B-24, or to captain a B-17, even to manage a typing pool in Karachi, Pakistan as Dorothy Carraker did. "I really wanted to share their adventure, you know," says Dorothy of her fellow soldiers. ''
Those stories, too often, die with the warrior. The snippets and tidbits that are left become historical markers, artifacts from generations past. 20 years from now, all those details, the personal stories too, will have passed.
The men and women who saved the world will live in history books and in a few stories told to reporters lucky enough to sit down and hear them first hand.