Inspired by The Greatest Generation
with Major Gen. Andrew Davis, USMC (Ret.) of the World War II Foundation
Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, less than 200,000 are alive today.
Major Gen. Andrew Davis, USMC (Ret.) of the World War II Foundation, joins host Tetiana Anderson to discuss efforts to chronicle personal accounts of the men and women who served in the Allied Forces during the war.
October 31, 2022
Roosevelt: Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.
Anderson: With the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the United States declared war on Japan and within days was fully engaged in World War II. The Greatest Generation, a term coined by former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, describes the 16 million Americans who served in the U.S. military during World War II. And of those, less than 200,000 remain today. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. The number of World War II veterans is rapidly declining, with the youngest living veterans now in their mid-90s. And joining me to discuss efforts to chronicle the stories of these veterans to educate and inspire today's Americans is retired U.S. Marine Corps Major General Andrew Davis. He is the CEO of the World War II Foundation. And, sir, thank you so much for being here.
Davis: Well, thank you, Tetiana. It's a real pleasure.
Anderson: So we just heard this term "the Greatest Generation." What does that mean to you?
Davis: Well, the Greatest Generation, as coined by Tom Brokaw, really does depict a whole generation that was bound together by a common cause. And that common cause literally was good versus evil, and they emerged victorious.
Anderson: I know there's a real sense of urgency in your work when it comes to collecting these stories. What are you doing to sort of accelerate that process?
Davis: Our founder and filmmaker, Tim Gray, is really passionate about telling these stories of World War II, and he has collected about 400 interviews with veterans that he looks for common threads of stories that we can weave in together to make an educational documentary film.
Anderson: And I know you have countless stories that you've heard of, that you've seen. Is there one that stands out to you?
Davis: One of the films that I think I like the best, because it does bridge generations, is our film that's called "Grandpa's War Story Goes #Viral," and it tells the story of 14-year-old Jim Schmidt -- who's still alive today in his late-90s -- who, at age 14, ran away from home in San Francisco, fraudulently enlisted in the Army, and wound up as a 14-year-old paratrooper, first in North Africa, and then Sicily, where he was wounded. His mother got a telegram from the Army saying that they regretted that her son, James, had been wounded. She thought he was with his father in San Francisco. So she dashed a letter off to President Roosevelt saying, "Send my son home." And Roosevelt did. Jim wound up serving in the Navy and the Merchant Marines in World War II, in Korea after, and then in Vietnam. He's still alive today, and his 14-year-old grandson discovered his memorabilia, started posting it on Facebook, and it went viral.
Anderson: So, it's that level of dedication that makes me think of the fact that, through all of this adversity, there was also a real sense of unity created with a variety of different groups, right?
Davis: Well, there was a unity of purpose, which is sorely lacking today, that bridged generations, bridged the genders, bridged the races. And the experience of African-Americans in World War II, while uneven of women, eventually, over the next 20 years, resulted in changes in culture and advanced opportunities.
Anderson: And you're documenting some of this or showing some of this on PBS now?
Davis: Yes, we are. In fact, our latest film, "Her War, Her Story," chronicles the personal stories of seven women, in uniform and out, from Rosie the Riveter to a woman Navy officer who was a code breaker to a survivor of Auschwitz. That film is showing on PBS while this interview is airing, as well.
Anderson: I'm glad you mentioned that, because we are going to pause and look at a clip. Lynch: Too frequently, we're saying goodbye to the veterans and survivors of World War II. World War II's victory, and in other nations its defeat, was also witnessed by and achieved through the extraordinary efforts of women. It was also her war and her story. World War II. ♪♪
Anderson: Why is it so important to show this example of unity and values and solidarity that these veterans showed in World War II? Why do people today need to see that?
Davis: Well, regrettably, the history of World War II has drifted out of the curriculum of high schools, and the lack of knowledge among millennials and their successors is woefully lacking. And we think that it's our mission to inform, educate, and inspire young people about the lessons of these World War II veterans that showed sacrifice, unity of purpose, and then ultimate victory.
Anderson: Within that mission of informing, I know people are going to want to know more. So what's your website? Where should they go?
Davis: Our website is WWIIfoundation.org
https://urldefense.com/v3/__http://www.wwiifoundation.org__;!!CQl3mcHX2A!HGvlHJXfJCjWCNnx3xhO-HeDZF5bvB60KttP2_OdgGMpDRy-IjKzxAOXj3E3qF3E8SCDFNNwTgBuMbjU7Xe6FoQ3rtXYLw$ . or they can search "World War II Foundation" and enjoy any of the 30 films that we have made for free download.
Anderson: Major General Davis of the World War II Foundation, first, thank you for your service, and, of course, thank you for being here.
Davis: Thank you. I've enjoyed it.
Anderson: And thanks to you for watching, as well. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.