Scott Davis and Bill Beckstrom

Scott Davis with Bill Beckstrom, who served in the Navy during World War II.

Scott Davis, a senior history major at Gonzaga, created an organization dedicated to telling military veterans’ stories, entitled Faces of Valor.

His website says: “[Davis’] interest in the experiences of the individual has developed into a passion for telling the stories of average Americans thrust into incredible circumstances. As a result, he created ‘Faces of Valor,’ an oral history project aimed at interviewing the last living World War II and Korean War veterans in the Pacific Northwest to ensure their sacrifices are not forgotten.”

Davis has traveled all over the Inland Northwest to speak with numerous veterans about their experiences.  

“My mom remembers trying to find books on World War II that were appropriate for a young kid, so I’ve always had an interest in history,” Davis said.

He went on to say that he drifted away from this interest up until his junior year of high school when he saw the Gary Sinise Foundation’s program “Soaring Valor,” which takes WWII veterans to the National WWII Museum in New Orleans.

“I was seeing these guys and noticing they were in their 80s and 90s and I thought ‘Well, if I don’t meet one now I’m never going to have the opportunity to meet a World War II veteran’,” Davis said.

Thinking back on it, Davis said he had watched “Band of Brothers” a few too many times and when he called the local Veterans of Foreign Wars organization to set up his first interview he wanted it to be with a WWII paratrooper. A few weeks later he was set up with Allan Wood who served in the 82nd Airborne Division during WWII.

After this initial interview, Davis decided he wanted to do more. In January he met Rishi Sharma, who runs a similar organization to Davis’, called Heroes of the Second World War. Sharma has conducted over 1,000 interviews with combat veterans all over the United States and, when he came to Spokane, Davis got to do a few interviews with him.

“He lit a fire underneath me and I decided that it was time to go,” Davis said. “These guys are disappearing and we need to do something. I’ve done over 70 interviews since January and I want to do over 100, which I’m on pace to do. If I could do 150 by the end of the year that would be perfect.”

One of the interviews Davis conducted was with his own grandfather, Wayne Wright, who served in the Army during the Korean War.

“He’s very, very good at interviewing,” Wright said. “It lasted some 50 minutes so he had to be patient.”

Wright went on to say that what Davis is doing is extremely important and he has worked very hard to tell as many stories as he can.

“I think it’s very, very important because the World War II veterans are going very, very fast,” Wright said. “There’s less than 500,000 of them available now and so if he teaches history, which he would like to do, there’s nothing like having someone who has been there and been in that situation to relate to what you’re trying to teach.”

Davis eventually wants to be a history professor after he graduates from GU. However, what he has learned at GU does not directly apply to his work.

“History is floating toward a social science in the sense that it’s almost scientific now and what you put out will be scrutinized as a science would,” Davis said. “My focus is more on history in the humanities – it’s about people and what I do with history has to involve people because that’s what makes it interesting to me.”

Davis’ academic adviser, Eric Cunningham, who is also a professor of history at GU, said what Davis is doing is important and the way he goes about it is admirable.

“I was involved at the startup of the veterans homecoming project with Prof. Anna Marie Media some years ago. As a veteran of the U.S. Navy myself, I believe that gathering as many oral histories and insights into the lives of veterans as we can provides future generations with a great wealth of wisdom and experience,” Cunningham said in an email.

“The greatest value of Scott’s work (from the standpoint of abstract education) is that he is taking his education in hand, producing his own results and thinking for himself,” Cunningham said. “In the more specific case, he is gathering data on a rapidly departing demographic and presenting new narratives of some of the most important events in history.”

“We can all benefit from learning the content of his work, and by gathering as much as we can from the subjects of his oral history project,” Cunningham said.

Davis said he hopes to take what he’s learned from both his education and his interviews and one day incorporate them into his own classroom.

“When I teach I want to be able to show these clips to young people and show them that there is price to freedom and these men and women paid it,” Davis said. “We need to be thankful for what we have and be thankful for what they sacrificed.”

He also wants to write. One day he wants to publish a book so more people have access to these individuals’ stories.

One story that stands out in Davis’ mind comes from when he went to Eastern Washington University and one of the veterans from the area met him for coffee about once a month. They were able to build and maintain a relationship through such a powerful story.

“He was in the First Marine Division on Okinawa and in his stories you felt like you were there, you could feel the adrenaline,” Davis said.

He travels all over the region for interviews. He wants to meet as many veterans from WWII and the Korean War as he can before they are all gone. He’s been to Portland, Boise, Wenatchee, Yakima, Chelan and the Spokane area in just the past year to document each veteran’s story, which he hopes to continue as the school year progresses.

However, finding these veterans can be a grueling task.

“What people don’t really realize about what I do is that 90% of it is finding the people and then convincing them to talk to me,” Davis said. “I’m coming up to a stranger and asking them to tell me about the best and worst years of their life.”

For a long time he would use old newspapers to find veterans and then he used the program Spokeo to contact them. From there he sets up an interview if the veteran is willing and able.

Wright mentioned that one time he and Davis went out to Felts Field and talked to veterans to see if they would want to speak again but in a formal interview fashion.

As of now, some of the videos Davis takes are posted on his YouTube channel, “Faces of Valor,” or published in podcast form, which is called “Voices of Valor,” which can be found on iTunes. “As far as I’m concerned, those interviews belong to the family so, if they want it on YouTube, that’s where I’ll put it,” Davis said. “As of right now it’s just a podcast where I’m trying to release different ways to tell these stories because what it’s really about is getting them in front of people because people need to hear them.”

Between Faces of Valor and school, Davis has his work cut out for him.

“It’s a lot sometimes, but I think it’s important,” Davis said. “I figure I can always go to school but there won’t’ always be these guys. The oldest I’ve interviewed is 104 and the youngest is 84, so my time with them is limited. My time with school is maximized.”

Davis is scheduled to graduate in May and he hopes to continue his work with Faces of Valor throughout the school year.

“All Americans living today owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the veterans of World War II, and projects like Scott’s allow us to recognize this, and to form this necessary bridge to the heroes of our past. Our need to do this is often taken for granted or ignored,” Cunningham said.

“It’s essential for people in the contemporary world to be able to tap into those elements of the past that can give us clear moral examples and guidance for patriotism and civic virtue,” Cunningham said.

Davis will continue to do these interviews and hopes to one day expand to the Vietnam War. But for now, he will stick with WWII and the Korean War.

“It’s important to remember what people have sacrificed. Today, we talk about politics and a lot of it is negative and I think people forget that there’s a lot of people who have sacrificed to get us to this point,” Davis said. “They didn’t have the luxuries that we have. I think we need to look at these people and be a lot more thankful for what we have and where we are.”

Riley Utley is a news editor. Follow her on Twitter: @rileyutley.

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