Some people may think that Denton native Mark Humphreys’ plan to take his Harley-Davidson motorcycle on a yearlong road trip across the United States to document interviews with World War II veterans sounds like one long vacation.
People who believe that have probably never conducted an interview. We know what Humphreys is proposing will be a tough job, but considering his chosen subject, it’s a job that needs doing — and the sooner the better.
Members of the Greatest Generation are rapidly fading from prominence. About 16 million U.S. soldiers served in World War II and according to the 2010 census, about 2.3 million World War II veterans are still alive.
However, 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.
A lot of history goes with them. As Humphreys said recently, many of the veterans die without ever telling their stories, and that’s a shame.
Humphreys, 44, and a 1997 University of North Texas graduate, retired from the military this year after serving for 27 years.
He’s calling his endeavor the GI Generation Project and plans on collecting about 150 interviews by the time he’s finished.
“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 said he is contacting the American Legion and veterans services in each state, setting up interviews.
He started his project on Jan. 1 by interviewing World War II veterans while he was 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 said he is trying to capture the stories of men and women who probably can’t be found in a history book, and that’s intriguing.
“We all know the big story about the war, but I think the small details are important, too,” he told us.
We agree, and we wish Humphreys the best of luck with his project.
Humphreys said he 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.
A recent excerpt includes the following: “Today, I had the great opportunity and pleasure to interview Mr. George W. Franklin at his home in Sanger, Texas. George is the father of Gene Franklin who was my high school coach and principal at Slidell High School and the one who helped arrange this interview. (Slidell, Texas not Louisiana) I was honored to hear this 86 year old Texan and WWII Navy veteran recount his early life growing up in the Oak Cliff area of Dallas, Texas with an older brother and his parents who worked raising and selling produce. George grew up, like all of those I have interviewed for the GI Generation Project, struggling for food and basic necessities as the nation tried to dig itself out of the Great Depression.”
A week ago, about 20 World War II veterans were recognized in the Texas Senate to commemorate Victory in Europe Day, or VE Day.
There are plenty of other World War II veterans out there who deserve recognition, and we need to make sure they know they are appreciated before it’s too late.
The world may never see another generation as great as theirs.