My father, Maurice Elson, was a veteran of World War 2. He had quadruple bypass surgery in 1978, and gained an extra two years of active life. When he was hospitalized after having a heart attack in 1980, I bought a little tape recorder — a Sony Recording Walkman — hoping to¬† get him talking about the war. I forgot to bring the recorder when I went to visit, and figured I’d bring it next time.

There would be no next time.

Seven years later, I found a newsletter addressed to my dad from the 712th Tank Battalion Association. I wrote and asked if they could put a note in the next issue saying if anyone remembered Lieutenant Elson, could they get in touch with me? A week later, a letter arrived from Sam MacFarland, who wrote that he didn’t know my father but they were in the same company (Company A). He said the battalion was having a reunion in a couple of weeks. If I came to the reunion, he’d take me around and see what we could find.

At that reunion, I met three veterans who remembered my dad; two of them in passing but the third was Jule Braatz, the sergeant whose platoon my dad was supposed to lead as a replacement for the first officer in the battalion to be killed. I sat down with Braatz and recorded an all too brief 45 minute interview. At the same time, I was deeply moved by the stories the veterans shared among themselves — in the hospitality room, the parking lot, the hotel lobby — yet rarely shared with their own family, that I thought these stories need to be preserved.

I missed the next reunion because of work obligations, but went to the 1989 reunion, tape recorder in hand, and never missed another reunion. The rest is history. Oral history.

I never did get to interview Sam MacFarland, whose daughter was born while he was in combat so he named her Lucky. Sam was one of 14 sergeants in the 712th who received a battlefield commission. Braatz was another. In the newsletter that arrived before the 1989 reunion, Ray Griffin, the battalion association president, wrote that he got a letter from Sam in which he said his cancer came out of remission, and that time was succeeding where Adolph Hitler failed. He passed away a few weeks later.

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