I had lunch with a small group of reenactors last weekend. The conversation was usual reenacting banter, who’s got the best uniforms, best events, so on and so forth. The talk eventually came around to WWII veterans and their stories, which is always does. One of the reenactors, a nice young guy I’d never met, said he still does veteran interviews in his hometown in Wisconsin.

I haven’t heard of anyone, reenactor or not, doing that for at least a few years. The last time I talked to a WWII veteran was in 2011, when I took a B-25 pilot named Len Super down to the SAC museum south of Omaha, Neb. to look at the B-25 they had on display there. We stopped at McDonalds on the way home, he insisted he buy us something for driving him. That’s the last time I remember having a real conversation with someone who was really there. I’ve said hello to vets here and there since then, but most of them have been well into their 90s and less than lucid.

They’re almost gone. Len Super died not long after that trip. Most every veteran I’ve ever had a connection with has past away. My Grandma died in 2012, my last close connection to the era. Of course I miss my grandmother, but I also miss the entire generation. I miss being able to run into WWII vets on a semi regular basis, stop them in a store or a diner and say hi, listen to a quick story and be on your way. The color and optimism they brought to the world was greatly appreciated and sorely needed. They’d seen the reality of hard times. Not some self-imposed version of hard times spewed from the mouth of every 20 something who doesn’t get into the sorority she was hoping for.

That’s what made them so wonderful to be around. They saw the world as a much better place than when they were young, and that made them hopeful.

What I really miss more than anything are the stories. No generation has ever been as graceful or talented in the art of storytelling. I’ve been scouring YouTube in the last few days looking for some of my favorite veteran stories. I’ve complied a list of them here. Most of them are from Ken Burn’s documentary “The War.” I want as many people as humanly possible to hear these wonderful, sad, happy and hilarious stories. Enjoy and share with anyone you can!

Ray Leopold