Greatest Generation Speaks: Teen Records WW II Oral Histories Into Book
Pinecrest graduate Nick Reed enters N.C. State this week, majoring in history.
He's already published his first history book, and it is history told in the words of those who made it.
"World at War: First Hand Accounts from America's Greatest Generation" grew out of three years of work searching out and talking with World War II veterans. Reed doesn't rewrite what they told him about the war. These accounts are, for the most part, verbatim.
Last Thursday night, the 17-year-old Pinehurst resident told a group at Pinehurst United Methodist, his family church, he sometimes did re-position parts of accounts to get them in proper sequence, but otherwise there are no changes.
The HBO series "Band of Brothers" first captured his interest. The series followed a team of paratroopers from training in Georgia through daylight jumps into combat. Reed was 15 at the time he saw the series and grew more fascinated with that vast conflict. Then he found a nearby neighbor who was a veteran, and there were others living in the Sandhills. He sought them out, asked questions, got them talking.
"Talking to veterans is a lot different," he said. "Instead of actors who have a script, it is a lot more personal. When you talk to veterans, it can become very emotional."
As he made his way through high school, Reed met one after another of the men and women who had served. Some still bore the scars of dreadful wounds. One survived the Bataan Death March. One led the bombing run over Hiroshima. A prisoner of war lived to tell the tale and invent ink-jet printers. There were generals and privates.
Reed listened to their stories, assembled them and added his own introduction. His self-published book sold so well he's had to order more, but he's not making a nickel.
"All the profit goes to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans," Reed said. "I don't keep a cent. Actually, I bought a brick and dedicated it to all the veterans interviewed in my book. If you are walking around the museum someday, you might find that in the pavement."
Reed was introduced to the Methodist men by his father, retired Lt. Col. Jim Reed, a former Special Forces medic who now works at FirstHealth.
"I couldn't be prouder of my son," he said. "He got interested in World War II because - when he was in fifth grade - he asked me, 'Dad, what's combat like?' I couldn't describe what a fire fight or anything else is like, but what I could describe was a brotherhood. I showed him the series 'Band of Brothers' one weekend, and the rest is history."
The boy read World War II books, watched World War II movies, collected military artifacts from the period.
" It wasn't until about the eighth-grade that I really homed in on World War II," he said. "My sister likes the 1920s, the fashion, the music. I liked that war because it really turned our country around from being in the Depression, how we went from a country that had nothing with fewer than 100,000 soldiers. Our country ranked behind Finland. All of a sudden we had the strongest military force we'd ever had. I wanted to talk to the people who'd done that."
Reed didn't just decide to jump into writing a book. At first he just wanted to talk to those veterans.
"The great thing is, I live in Pinehurst, where there's golf," Reed said. "Where there's golf, there are retirement homes. (laughter) That's what got me started: going to nursing homes, talking to people who lived during the 1940s. As I found out, not everybody in their 80s lives in a nursing home."
He had business cards printed asking veterans to phone him, or email him. One by one the interviews piled up. Reed separated them into sections, one from the Pacific theater of war and a second from the Atlantic theater. Later, he added accounts from WAVEs who'd served on the home front.
People heard about his quest and helped him find veterans.
"Originally I didn't decide to write a book," he said. "I wanted them for my own records so I could go back and look at them, maybe use them for a school project. Six or seven interviews in, I had so much material I really wanted to turn it all into something else."
That's when Reed realized he was writing a book. The thought didn't daunt him, it energized him, and he buckled down to the mission.
Over the years he wore out one digital recorder and had to replace it. He saved work on his computer and, for safety, on a flash drive. Now hours of his interviews are part of the record in New Orleans at the museum. Someday there, visitors will be able to hear voices from the past talking about Guadalcanal, about Anzio, about the D-Day beach landings.
A lot of high school seniors celebrate their graduation with a party. Reed's party was different. Instead of classmates, Reed invited as many of the veterans as could make it to a lunch where he gave each of them a signed copy. Gathering at tables, they swapped war stories and signed each other's books.
The book is available for $25 at The Country Bookshop, 140 NW Broad St. in Southern Pines.
Contact John Chappell at (910) 783-5841 or email@example.com.
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