Tips to Interviewing 100+ WWII Veterans

Vernon Byer brought home flag from Japan after serving there during the Occupation.

Vernon Byer brought home flag from Japan after serving there during the Occupation.

Sometimes people want to know what happens when I interview a World War II veteran. It’s a process and always a privilege.

First, I allot two hours for the interview. This does not include the time it takes to drive to/from the place where the veteran lives.

The two hours does include my getting set up with my tape recorder, notepad, getting both of us settled across from each other and then the actual talking. That can be quite a brain strain for the veteran! They are reaching back 70+ years for details! I recently listed the questions that I typically ask—53 minimum! Whew!

Bill Yaney also served in Japan during WWII with the Army.

Bill Yaney also served in Japan during WWII with the Army.

Then there are photos—prior to the interview I ask the veteran and/or his /her family to gather mementos, photos, souvenirs, books, cap/T-shirt from an Honor Flight of Northeast Indiana trip, medals, anything brought home from the war.

 

I’ve seen Nazi flags, Hitler Youth T-shirt, guns from many countries, Japanese shoes, Navy logbooks, uniforms, photos of locales all over the world. It’s all 70+ years old and fascinating!

I then drape these items over and around the veteran for the photos. I take several shots with my digital camera and then shoot more pics with my iPad to post online.

 

Then I ask the veteran to tell me of a brief incident that happened to him/her during the war. I tape that incident in a minute or so on the ipad.

Dick Willey brought home a Hitler Youth T-shirt from his time of service in Germany.

Dick Willey brought home a Hitler Youth T-shirt from his time of service in Germany.

The Fort Wayne News-Sentinel newspaper has been publishing my World War II stories. They have sometimes used these vids on their website (News-Sentinel.com).

You can access my stories here: Kayleen Reusser WWII stories.

World War II: Legacies of Northeast Indiana Veterans

World War II: Legacies of Northeast Indiana Veterans

These are different stories than the 28 listed in my book, WWII Legacies: Stories of Northeast IN Veterans.

I use my handheld scanner to scan old photos (I always try to get one of the veteran in uniform and any others), documents for verification and even book pages.

 

Finally, I pack up my gear in a small suitcase, thank the veteran for his/her time and leave. By the end of the time, I’m tired but exhilarated. I think the veteran is probably tired too! The interview is quite a mind-numbing session, but totally worth it.

Here’s why.

Each interview means I’ve made a new friend. That’s how I see the vets and how I hope they view me.

I’m thrilled because another veteran has entrusted his/her story to me. That is a privilege.

I’m also thrilled because we have another piece of our national heritage documented. So far, I’ve interviewed 100+ vets from across Indiana.

They are not just a number. Each story is unique and precious. I record each veteran’s birthday and send them cards. I’m also going to send Christmas cards this year! When possible, I visit the vets.

Sure, I wish I had begun interviewing like this 10 years ago. But I was not ready then for the commitment it requires. I believe in ‘better late than never’.

Hey, we have 100 stories that we didn’t have a few months ago!

What are you doing to preserve our nation’s heritage?

 

WWII vet Bob Foster Served Family, Friends, Country

Front row: Bob Foster, Don Shady. Back row: Nelson Price, Kayleen Reusser

On the air! Front row: Bob Foster, Don Shady. Back row: Nelson Price, Kayleen Reusser

I was saddened to hear of the death of a World War II vet featured in my book, World War II Legacies: Stories of Northeast Indiana Veterans.

World War II: Legacies of Northeast Indiana Veterans

World War II: Legacies of Northeast Indiana Veterans

Robert ‘Bob’ E. Foster, 92, of Fort Wayne, passed away on Monday, July 20, 2015. I met Bob through a friend a couple of years ago. He was friendly and excited to tell me his story of being a soldier in the US Army during World War II. I included his account in my book. An excerpt is included here:

The fighting at Cherbourg continued for two weeks with an Allied victory. Six months later, Foster was involved in another brutal conflict at the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes Forest in Belgium. The conflict, which began on December 16, 1944, took place during one of the coldest winters on record. For three months the soldiers fought while sleeping in foxholes filled with snow. Many soldiers froze to death. “Dead soldiers were stacked 20 feet high,” said Foster.

Struggle against the elements was only part of the challenge to survive. When Foster’s captain put him in charge of the platoon for a raid on a town in Belgium, he handed Foster a Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) with 15 clips of 30-caliber shells, weighing approximately 15 pounds. “Our other BAR man had been killed,” said Foster.

Bob Foster fought with the US Army in WWII.

Bob Foster fought with the US Army in WWII.

The BAR could shoot like a machine gun, but was little protection against German tanks, which shot 88-millimeter shells, the biggest in the world. When the Germans opened fire on Foster’s platoon, a shell critically damaged his captain’s leg. Foster was also injured in the knee and head but tried to help his captain, pressing his hand against the wound to staunch the flow. Sadly, the captain died.

Foster, weak from his own blood loss, collapsed and medics rushed him to an aid station. Later, he was transferred to hospitals in Paris and England where he recovered and returned to his unit in Germany.

**

Bob Foster & Reusser fam Dec '14

Bob Foster & Reusser fam Dec ’14

Our family visited Bob last Christmas. It was a sweet visit but not the last time we saw Bob. In Feb 2015 we drove him and another vet from my book, Don Shady, to Indianapolis to appear on a live radio station at the University of Indianapolis. Our host was Nelson Price. Our subject, of course, was WWII. The guys, neither of which had ever been interviewed on radio, did swell!

Bob Foster -- today good

Bob Foster on his Honor Flight of Northeast IN

This excerpt from the tribute given at Bob’s funeral by Ted Linn of WANE-TV gives a behind-the-scenes look at what happens on an Honor Flight:

“I met Bob on October 23, 2013 for Honor Flight 11 out of Fort Wayne. We at WANE-TV had recently partnered with Honor Flight of Northeast Indiana. My boss and I went as guardians. I was assigned to Bob Foster.

“Who’s he?” “Oh, you’ll like Bob. He’s a Purple Heart veteran with a couple of Bronze Stars.” “Wow!” I said.

That day he told me how his wife Phyllis, who had died in 2013, and others at their church had prayed him through the worst days of World War II and the war in Europe.  Afterward, he came home to raise a family and work for the USPS.

Bob Foster was a spiritual man. I was, too. We were kindred spirits.  Lovers of God, lovers of His Son, lovers of God’s people, lovers of the Word. Bob loved Psalm 84:11, “No good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly.”

I knew I’d stay in touch with Bob Foster.  Not every day, not even every month, but when we did talk, he’d mention how wonderful Honor Flight was and how good of care I took of him that day.

I just read this week Isaiah 40, verse 8: “The grass withers and the flowers fall (that’s Bob today), but the word of our God endures forever.”

Bob struck me as a classic World War II veteran who insisted on doing his duty. He ended up in some incredibly dangerous, life-threatening situations in the European Theatre.

He survived to return to his wife in Indiana, work and support his family, and center his life around his God.

He never lost his God-given pride for all of that and his good nature, but he never let any of it get the best of him or make him vain, at least not in the 21 precious months that I had the privilege of knowing this fine man.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak about a hero of mine, Bob Foster.

**

Every day World War II vets are dying. In today’s newspaper I read of another vet who died this week and whom I interviewed last year for a local newspaper. Another vet also died this week from my area whom I didn’t know and didn’t get to interview. I consider that a loss for our American heritage.

Our World War II vets are our nation’s oldest vets. I’m trying to interview as many of them as possible to preserve our heritage. I can’t do it alone. Please, if you know a veteran of any era, ask him/her to tell the story of their life and record it. You’ll be glad you did.

Purple Heart Day

The Purple Heart has an interesting history. I’ve interviewed several WWII vets and Vietnam who have been awarded Purple Hearts. Be sure to read about the American soldier who has been awarded the most Purple Hearts!

Pacific Paratrooper

Purple Heart patch for those wounded in WWII Purple Heart patch for those wounded in WWII

On this date in 1782, in Newburgh, New York, General George Washington created the “Badge for Military Merit,” a decoration consisting of a purple, heart-shaped piece of silk, edged in silver, with the word Merit etched.  It was to be presented for any one meritorious action and it permitted the wearer to pass guards and sentinels without challenge.   The honoree’s name and regiment were to be inscribed in “The Book of Merit.”

Purple Heart certificate given during the Korean War Purple Heart certificate given during the Korean War

Only three soldiers are known to have been awarded this medal during the Revolutionary War: Elijah Churchill, William Brown and Daniel Bissell Jr.  The Book of Merit was lost and the medal was virtually forgotten.  In 1927, General Charles Summerall  sent an unsuccessful draft bill to Congress to revive the Badge.

Patch for Afghanistan Patch for Afghanistan

General Douglas MacArthur took up the cause…

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