“The night before, when we got the final word, there were a few men who made their way to the chapel, myself included.“ These are the words of a World War II Veteran as he begins to reflect on his experiences the night before the Normandy Invasion, June 6, 1944. He is one of hundreds of WWII vets whose personal narratives have been preserved in the video series, Lest They Be Forgotten. Larry Cappetto is the producer, director, interviewer, and host who has pieced together this invaluable oral history in an effort to preserve forever stories from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, before those who experienced them personally are gone.
“Some of the troops-this was their first time in combat-had volunteered and had no idea what they were getting themselves into,” says one man. ”I think that’s why they had so many of the young guys go in first. An 18-year old don’t think about life the way a 40 year old man does,” says another, in what is a series of interview excerpts edited into a chronological account of the events of D-Day, 67 years ago.
Cappetto, a filmmaker, writer and musician from Grand Junction, Colorado has, since 2002, dedicated his time, talents and personal resources to the cause of archiving personal accounts from men and women who served during WWII. He has pursued this aging and dying population of veterans for years, traveling to all parts of the United States, as well as overseas, in his crusade. The videotaped reports chronicled in his series are often humorous, sometimes heart-wrenching, but always human; the real perspectives of fighting men who lived through the unimaginable distress of war. “We didn’t care if we got hit or killed or whatever. We were just so miserably seasick that we wanted off the boat,” says one veteran of his experience landing on the beach at Normandy. Says another, “I saw machine-gun fire and it looked like rain.” And another, “I saw the boat blew completely out of the water. All these boys-their arms flying, their bodies flying all over the place.”
The Lest They Be Forgotten series consists of 12 DVDs, each about one hour in length. The pivotal battles of World War II: Iwo Jima, The Battle of the Bulge, The Allied Invasion, are all recalled by the men who fought, who lost friends, and whose hearts often broke with the horrors of armed conflict. Oral histories about the Holocaust, the Korean War, and Vietnam are also included in Cappetto’s collection. The interviews are compelling in their simplicity.
Old veterans, usually in the comfort of their homes, sometimes wearing insignia or a cap that extolls their branch of the service, speak openly, authentically, and in detail about their struggles. ”They took a direct hit and I’m sure none one of these guys got off alive. They just got blown to bits.” The D-Day recollections are graphic, seared into the memories of these elderly men. Of the suffering of his wounded comrades on the beach one man remembers, “There was nothing you could do to help them. When a wave came in you knew it was just going to take them out to sea. There was just nothing you could do.” The often stark memories of these veterans engage the viewer in a powerful way. Some instances are difficult to absorb. “When the tank commander told me I had to move, I said ‘I can’t, men are laying everywhere.’ I had no choice, but I decided if I had to run over a dead soldier that I would run over his legs. I ran over quite a few soldiers that day,” says one man about driving a tank onto Normandy beach.
The power and purpose of Lest They Be Forgotten has earned Cappetto national recognition. He has been interviewed about his important work by many television networks and affiliates, including the CBS evening news. He has traveled extensively to many states, including Texas, Ohio and Utah, to present his video series in high schools as a key component of American history. Cappetto has been successful in having his video series included as a curriculum resource in some Texas schools. The oral histories of the men and women who have served to preserve America and her liberty are particularly effective in reaching the current generation of young people, as it evokes profound parallels between 20th Century conflicts, and the wars which rage now in foreign lands.
“I got the report from the BBC that the invasion has started. They said there were very few casualties. But you wondered how they could say that. When I looked out at the beach and the water was full of blood and it was covered with the dead.” Such narratives add clarity and detail to historical battles. “Most people don’t know what war is like, but I’m going to use the word ‘hell.’ It was hell.” The D-Day interviews bring a new appreciation to the viewer of the men who were there, and their painful sacrifices.
Most of the videos in the series end with split-screen images of the veterans then and now. They give a hearty salute, and do so often with tears in their eyes. Most of the interviewees speak, above all, of their unwavering love of country. “We did it for America because if we didn’t do it, they would have been on your doorstep.” “I think the kids today should thank their parents and grandparents, and the Good Lord that they have the freedom they do.” “Liberty is everything. Without liberty nothing else in possible.” “We volunteered to go in because we literally fought for this country. We love America and we still do.”
These heart-felt narrations sum up the patriotism and goodness of those veterans who have willingly recounted their war experiences. They did not want to fight, but they did so with valor and purpose. Lest They be Forgotten is an archive that must be preserved, expanded, and widely viewed by Americans to help them learn and remember, as the 67-year anniversary of D-Day approaches, why wars have been fought, and at what price freedom is purchased.