Armed with a smartphone, a Hingham woman is mining a list of local veterans and recording their memories for a national oral history archive.
Eileen McIntyre has interviewed half a dozen veterans so far, capturing stories ranging from landing at Normandy on D-Day in the offensive to end World War II to being captured in that war’s Battle of the Bulge, to flying helicopter rescue missions in Vietnam.
Her work is part of the national StoryCorps project, which has been collecting oral histories since 2003. More than 60,000 of them are now archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.
The recordings include more than 2,000 interviews with veterans, part of a special Military Voices Initiative that, according to StoryCorps founder and president Dave Isay, is collecting their stories so the public can understand and appreciate the sacrifices made by service members.
“Just as importantly, the StoryCorps interview itself -- the very act of listening -- honors [veterans] by reminding them that their lives matter and will not be forgotten," Isay said in a recent e-mail.
McIntyre, who started interviewing veterans in 2015, said it’s especially compelling to hear people tell their war stories in their own words, with the small details that bring history to life.
“You feel a little bit what it was like to land on the beach in Normandy when you hear about the weight of their pack and how they had to leave it behind so they wouldn’t drown,” she said.
That image comes from Norman Grossman, who left college to enlist in the Army after Pearl Harbor at age 19. He’s 92 now and lives at Linden Ponds, a retirement community in Hingham, where he’s part of an active veterans’ group.
In his recorded interview, he told of crossing the Atlantic to England on the Queen Mary, a rough five-day trip. Crossing the English Channel to Omaha Beach in France was even rougher, he said. “We were each given a paper bag, and we all used them,” Grossman told McIntyre.
He described dumping his 60-pound pack so it wouldn't drag him under the water, and running across the beach with fellow infantrymen to a path up a hill.
“Unfortunately it was mined, and one of the guys in front was blown up, but we did make it,” he said.
Grossman said he went into a bunker and captured several Germans, bringing them back, through gunfire, to the beach to be questioned. Days later, Grossman was wounded and spent a year in hospitals recovering, first in Europe and then in this country.
When his mother came to visit at the hospital at Camp Edwards on Cape Cod, he said, she didn’t recognize him. “I had lost 80 pounds and was down to 80 pounds,” he recalled.
Grossman received a Purple Heart, and in 2014 he was awarded the French Legion of Honor in recognition of his role in fighting “for France and freedom.”
Grossman went on to get an economics degree from Brown University after the war and, with his younger brother, took over their father’s business, Congress Sportswear, which made outerware at a factory in Maine. He and his late wife, a pianist, had five children.
Syd Rosenburg, 96, and his wife, Dorothy, also spoke to McIntyre about their World War II experiences -- his as a prisoner of war in Germany and hers back home in Massachusetts not knowing whether he was alive or dead in the time before easy communication.
Rosenburg’s entire company -- the 424th Infantry A company -- was taken prisoner during the Battle of the Bulge and sent to prison camp in Germany.
“I was very fortunate that there was an Englishman, Percy, who had been taken at Dunkirk and he knew all the ins and outs of prison life,” said Rosenburg, who also lives at Linden Ponds. “He got out of camp almost every night and came back with food for us. The prison food was just horrible -- grass soup. I didn’t get Percy’s last name, so I could never look him up afterward.”
Rosenburg said he moved seven times to different camps, and kept a record in a notebook, which he regrets leaving behind when he was freed. “But I came back, and I was fine,” he said.
Back in Newton, he started a dry-cleaning business in Waban Square, and his family spent summers in Hull.
McIntyre, who retired in 2015 as vice president of investor relations at Cubist Pharmaceuticals in Lexington, said she’d been intrigued for years by StoryCorps interviews she heard on public radio and regretted that she hadn’t gotten her mother’s memories recorded before she died at age 94. She also wished she’d asked her late father about his service in the Pacific Theater at the end of World War II.
So when StoryCorps released its smartphone app in 2015, she quickly downloaded it and started interviewing first family and friends, and then local veterans, following its easy steps on how to record and transmit the information.
“I think people all have interesting stories -- but we don’t usually ask,” she said.
Others are recording local veterans as well, according to StoryCorps, although it couldn’t say how many and where they are.
StoryCorps opened its first recording booth in New York City’s Grand Central train terminal in 2003, expanded to New York, Atlanta, Chicago, and San Francisco, added two mobile booths that travel the country, and then the free downloadable firstname.lastname@example.org.