WW II Vets Reunite, Share Tales

The new World War II memorial will be dedicated on Saturday and thousands of aging veterans are gathering in Washington for a last grand reunion of Americans who served.

CBS News Correspondent Wyatt Andrews reports it is also an opportunity to record and preserve of that vast and terrible conflict.

It could be most aggressive attempt ever to collect unfiltered tales of war.

This weekend the Veterans History Project is mobilizing an army of volunteers armed with pens and tape recorders to gather thousands of stories at The National WWII reunion perhaps the largest single gathering of vets since D-day itself.

"We were a unit that operated close to the front line. They raided us and sank the ship next to us," recalls one veteran already in Washington for the upcoming ceremony.

Online, or on tape, the volunteers are asking these aging veterans to recount the history they made.

The project has already amassed thousands of letters, photos, even battlefield watercolors—and wants more before it's too late to ask.

"They are all over 80 years old and we are losing a number of stories," says one volunteer working on the project.

World War II is remembered as the just war, but it was also horrific -- 60 million people died, including 400,000 Americans. Many veterans came home proud of their service, but reluctant to relive it.

Former Congressman Sam Gibbons, a veteran of D-DAY, says now even the reluctant feel honored to be asked their history.

"They are approaching the end of life and they want to tell their story. I think it motivates them highly," he said.

Some veterans brought photos—including Howard Simon—who as a young army corporal helped liberate a small town in France.

"We were heroes," says Simon pointing to a war photo.

Sixty years ago these heroes were asked to give everything. Now, almost as a parting gift, they are giving their memories.
  • Lauren Johnston

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