World War II involved the greatest land, sea, and air battles in history. The place names Stalingrad and Normandy Beach, Saipan and Okinawa are deeply imprinted in our memories and popular culture. Josef Stalin once observed, “When six million people die, it’s a statistic. But when one person dies, it’s a tragedy.”
So, too, World War II is ultimately about people and relationships. The conflict pulled and pushed 16 million Americans into the armed services. For many, the war would be the single greatest adventure of their lives; for others, it epitomized the waste of lives, resources, and nations; for the mothers, fathers, wives, brothers, and sisters of 400,000 servicemen lost in this conflict, it meant a dreaded telegram informing them that their loved one would not be coming home.
At some moment, probably in the third or fourth decade of the 21st century, teachers will announce to their history classes that the last veteran of World War II is dead. Daily, over one thousand veterans die. The urgency to interview and record the memories of the surviving veterans is paramount. We treasure our good fortune to have interviewed some remarkable individuals who did so much good for Florida. The Book of Ecclesiastes instructs us, “Let us now praise famous men [and women].” Thank you William Emerson, Andrew Hines, Hazel Hough, William Hough, Gus Stavros, Eugene Williams, Evelyn Williams, as well as the unsung men and women who welded the ships, who picked the tomatoes, who rolled the cigars, and who kept the faith—for the duration.
Click on any of the veteran’s photos below, or the sub-navigation links above, to be taken to a page of oral history interview clips and artifacts from each veteran.