As Veteran’s Day approaches, many of us take time to honor family members and previous generations who have served in the Armed Forces. But for Gonzaga University student, Scott Davis, a childhood fascination has become an all-consuming passion to document the first-hand stories of World War II veterans.
For as long as he can remember, Davis has been obsessed with World War II history.
“I remember in third grade going to Hollywood Video and picking Band of Brothers, the World War II miniseries, off the shelf. That was when Hollywood Video was around, so you know how long ago that was. So I’ve always had this passion. It just kind of snowballed, I guess, into wanting to actually meet the guys.”
Fast forward to 2015, and that snowball led then seventeen-year-old Davis to pick up the phone and call his local Veterans of Foreign Wars office.
“I think I’d watched Band of Brothers a few too many times, because I said, I want to meet a World War II paratrooper. Not just any World War II veteran. And the guy said, well I’m not sure if we have one here, but we’ll ask around and get back to you. And I think it was about two weeks later, I get a call back saying, yeah, we found a guy at the Spokane Veterans’ Home who was with the 82nd Airborne. He jumped into Holland.”
Davis admits that first interview was a bit awkward. But he fumbled his way through it, and afterward found himself wanting to learn more. Since then, he’s met with and recorded oral histories from dozens of veterans.
“I think I’m at around 140. Sometimes my count gets a little off. But I was at 120 counting, and thats been a couple months. So I think I’m at about 140, something like that.”
Though each veteran has a unique perspective to share, there are a few stories that have stuck with Scott Davis.
“One of the first guys that I got to know really well, his name was Larry Jackson. He served with the First Marine Division on Okinawa. I used to go get coffee with him once a month for the year and a half I knew him before he passed away. But he would tell these just absolutely heart-pounding stories. It was so visceral and such a raw memory for him. He really stood out to me.”
Other stories that Davis has collected include remarkable women who served in wide ranging roles during the war, from nurses to factory workers to Gen Lashaw, a Spokane Valley resident who was one of the first women in the Marine Corps.
“You know, all her family was in the Navy, but she said, ‘The Navy wasn’t tough enough for me.’ So she went into the Marine Corps. These are the toughest women I’ve ever met in my life.”
Though he’s still a student at Gonzaga University, Davis says he hopes someday to become a teacher and share these stories with his own students.
“History gives us people that we can look up to and maybe mold our own lives in the shape of these people. So I’m hoping that when I’m teaching, I’ll be able to use these oral histories and show them to students. Maybe that will spark an interest or give them something to strive for.”
Davis also hopes to someday write a book sharing the stories he’s collected. But for now, he says his focus is preservation.
“I’m trying to get as many of these guys’ stories down because in the next 10-15 years, they’re not going to be here anymore.”
Scott Davis will be hosting a presentation in honor of Veteran’s Day on Sunday, November 10th, 2 p.m. at the Shadle Park branch of the Spokane Public Library. Davis will be joined by World War II veteran Dean Ladd who will share some of his own first-hand stories. You can learn more about Davis’s project at his website, Facesofvalor.org.