Don’t lose history, talk to a World War II vet

Jack Morris

In June, my grandfather, Jack Morris, died.

He was a plumber, a loving father of three and grandfather to five, an Atlanta Braves diehard and a World War II U.S. Army veteran. He would talk about the Braves for as long as you’d let him, but he never really opened up about his time in the “The War.”

It was something as a kid, I was told not to ask about. So, I didn’t for the most part. Occasionally, we’d watch a History Channel program, and I’d ask if it looked familiar or if it was similar to something he’d gone through. But the conversations never went very far.

When he died, it became a very serious problem for us. There was a large part of my family’s history that was unknown to me and would remain that way. My parents don’t know much about his time in the Army, and my grandmother had long since passed away.

After the funeral, we pored through his 93 years of things. Most was what we expected to find. But stuffed deep in a closet, inside a small footlocker covered with some arcane letters and numbers, was a sliver of salvation. Inside was a green military-issue duffle bag stuffed with snippets of his time fighting in the European Theater.

It was filled with medals, ribbons, war souvenirs, photographs and letters to family members back home and girlfriends in far-off ports. There was even a pamphlet on what to do if German soldiers captured you: Give your rank and serial number and keep quiet.

It didn’t tell us much about what he did in the war, but it told us a lot about who he was while he fought.

So a few days later, when Frank

DeLoache, my boss, and I sat down to discuss news coverage for the Cornelius Veterans Monument, I just blurted out,
“I want to know their stories.”

That was 20-plus weeks ago, and since then, we’ve tried to track down the stories of as many of our living World War II soldiers as we could. We’ve sat across the table from heroes and heard tales of courage and valor – and some tragic stories.

All of it made us realize how important it is to document these stories before it’s too late.

Andrew Batten, editor of the Mountain Island Weekly, one of our sister papers, was smart enough years ago to interview his grandfather and record it. A close friend tracked her grandfather as much as she could through military records after he was stricken with dementia.

But generally, most of us don’t have the forethought to capture these stories. It’s a far too common problem.

Take the time to talk to a veteran. You’ll be surprised at what you can learn just by asking the question, “Tell me how you ended up in The War?”

We were.

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