Some young adults collect comic books – amassing tales of superheroes like Spider-Man or Captain Marvel. Not Scott Davis. Instead, the 21 year-old Gonzaga University history major is collecting oral histories of real-life heroes – those who served in World War II and in the Korean War.
His passion to preserve their stories has resulted in 107 interviews and a recently launched podcast, “Voices of Valor.” Davis can’t remember a time he wasn’t fascinated by World War II. “My mom remembers asking my first-grade teacher for age-appropriate World War II books,” he said. “Maybe young people are captivated by heroism. There’s something noble about ordinary people doing extraordinary things.”
His family’s history of military service certainly had some influence. His great-grandfather served in WWII, and Davis proudly displays his Purple Heart and other medals in his bedroom at his parent’s north Spokane home.
Also on display are mementos and photos from his grandfather who served in the Korean War. Davis’ father served eight years in the Navy. But the other photos that line his walls are of strangers who shared their stories with him and are part of his oral history project: Faces of Valor.
The project began when Davis was still in high school. “In my junior year, it occurred to me that if I wanted to talk to veterans who served in World War II, time was running out,” he said. “I really wanted to interview a paratrooper, so I called a local VFW.”
It took a few weeks, but the VFW put him in contact with Allan Wood, and Davis drove to the Spokane Veteran’s Home to meet him. “I was 17,” Davis recalled. “I didn’t know how to do an interview.”
But after hearing Wood’s firsthand account of making a combat jump into Holland during Operation Market Garden, Davis was hooked. He wanted to meet more vets. He wanted to share their stories, and Faces of Valor was born.
He finds veterans via newspaper articles, books and social media. Then he writes a letter or picks up the phone and requests an interview. Because he’s funding this project on his own, he’s limited his scope to the Pacific Northwest.
From paratroopers to pilots to Marine Raiders, Davis has collected an impressive oral history. For example, Ben Carson served with the legendary “Carlson’s Raiders” as part of the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion during World War II. He participated in the defense of Midway Island, the Raid on Makin Island, the fighting on Guadalcanal and finally the battle for Iwo Jima.
“I didn’t want to be in the jungle,” Carson told Davis. “I wanted to be fishing back in Minnesota.” Instead, he engaged in some of the most ferocious fighting of the war. When he was sent to Iwo Jima, he told Davis, “I stopped telling people I was a Raider.”
Davis explained. “The Raiders had combat experience – they were the ones selected to lead patrols. They were the ones who got killed.”
In another interview, a pilot took Davis turn by turn through a maneuver he flew in heavy fog. “He was 99, but the mission he flew 75 years ago was still vivid,” said Davis. “Sometimes it feels like I’m talking to characters from a movie.”
But the sacrifices they made were all too real. “They went through horrible things so we can go to classes and sleep in our warm beds,” he said. Davis plans to be a history teacher and hopes to use the interviews in his classroom or one day write a book.
This year, he started videotaping the interviews, and the launch of the podcast means listeners can hear the veterans’ stories in their own voices. He’s been averaging five interviews a week this summer but will cut back to three a week when school resumes.
He grinned. “This is what I do with my free time. I had to quit playing video games.”
He always asks veterans these two questions: What advice do you have for young people? And what does America mean to you? “The tears come when they talk about what America means to them,” he said.
And Davis has attended more funerals than most people his age. “I’ve been going to about a funeral a month,” he said. “I want the families to know that their loved one mattered.”
His time with members of the Greatest Generation has profoundly affected him. “People aren’t grateful for what they have,” said Davis. “The fact is, I’m thankful every day when I wake up. Their stories have taught me gratitude, and, as long as there are veterans, I’m going to tell their stories.”
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.