Denton native Mark Humphreys recalled a conversation he had with a World War II veteran who witnessed the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941.
The veteran told a story about narrowly escaping death, while at the same time watching other soldiers die during the surprise attack by Japanese fighter pilots, Humphreys said.
“He told me that a plane flew so close to the ship he was on, that he was able to see into the eyes of the Japanese pilot,” Humphreys said. “That’s a story you never hear about.”
Each year, the number of World War II veterans continues to drop and every year their stories are forgotten and never told, Humphreys said.
To collect as many stories as he can, Humphreys is taking his Harley-Davidson motorcycle on a year-long road trip across the U.S. to document interviews with WWII veterans.
He’s calling his endeavor the GI Generation Project.
“The stories they have to tell keep me on the edge of my seat,” he said. “It’s exciting because you have a speaking history book right in front of you.”
Humphreys, 44, and a 1997 University of North Texas graduate, retired from the military this year after serving for 27 years.
On Jan. 1, he began his project by interviewing local WWII veterans while still on active duty in Tampa, Fla.
Now retired, Humphrey said he has plans to go on to Fort Benning, Ga, where he has scheduled interviews and a tour of the Army Infantry School and Museum before continuing to California and Hawaii.
“I spent 27 years serving this country and I never got a chance to see the country I fought for,” he said. “I get to travel and also collect stories that could be lost forever.”
Humphreys plans on collecting about 150 interviews and he already has at least 20. He said he is contacting the American Legion and veterans services in each state, setting up interviews with local veterans.
“I’m not looking for war heroes. I’m trying to capture the stories of men, women and minorities that probably can’t be found in a history book,” he said. “We all know the big story about the war, but I think the small details are important, too.”
Humphreys said he has friends and friends of friends scattered throughout the country that will provide places for him to lodge while he is on the road.
“My biggest expenses will definitely be food and fuel,” he said. “But it doesn’t hurt that the Harley gets 45 miles per gallon.”
By the end of this year, Humphreys plans to have logged more than 30,000 miles on his motorcycle.
About 16 million U.S. soldiers served in World War II and according to the 2010 Census, about 2.3 million in World War II veterans are still alive.
And according to statistics released by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs last month, a little more than 600 World War II veterans die each day.
On Wednesday, about 20 World War II veterans were recognized in the Texas Senate to commemorate Victory in Europe Day, or VE Day.
On May 8, 1945, WWII allies accepted the surrender of Nazi Germany, ending the war in Europe.
Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, introduced each veteran, including Gov. Rick Perry‘s father, Ray Perry, who flew 35 missions over Europe.
Birdwell praised the veterans for their service during the war and said they are examples of the country’s greatest generation.
Humphreys will end his tour at the end of the year and make each of the videos and stories he collects available to the public.
He will keep a blog diary on his website, www.GIGenerationProject.org .
“I’m not doing this for any monetary gain,” he said. “As a travel, I hope I can collect as many stories as I can from the men and women who also fought for us.”
JOHN D. HARDEN can be reached at 940-566-6882 and via Twitter at @JDHarden.