Brandon Soale has always been a history buff, but it was the American Civil War that first got his attention as a teenager.
It wasn’t until he was a senior at Miami University that his interests shifted, largely as the result of a class project in which he was assigned to interview a veteran of World War II.
From that, he discovered that there’s more to history than what can be read in books, that there’s a wealth of history yet to be written from the lives and memories of people who have lived it.
When he got the assignment, he could only think of one World War II veteran, an uncle who had already passed away. So he started asking around and his father set him up with a Blanchester, Ohio, man named Al Bryant who had flown in a B-17 “flying fortress” for the 15th Air Force based out of Italy. His plane, Never Satisfied, had been shot down over Hungary and Bryant spent seven months in a German prisoner of war camp.
His interest piqued after a two-hour interview, Soale took to the Internet and tracked down the pilot of Never Satisfied, who was living in Utah, and he in turn led Soale to several other members of the crew.
“By the time I was done, I had found seven guys of the 10-man crew who were still alive,” he said.
Not only did he interview as many of them as he could, as much as he could — they were all between 88 and 94 years old in varying health conditions — but they and in some cases their widows supplied him with diaries, mission logs, transcripts of speeches they had given through the years and photographs.
“There were five planes shot down that same day, so then I went to find guys from the other planes,” Soale said.
Although he hadn’t planned on writing a book when he went to that first interview in Blanchester, after about four years of research, he realized he had a pretty good story to tell and wrote “From Foggia to Freedom: First-Hand Accounts of the Airmen of the 15th Air Force During World War II,” focusing primarily on the crew of Never Satisfied and including their accounts of life in the prison camp, which happened to be the same one in the film “The Great Escape.”
But he said he’s not finished yet.
Since he started taking the oral histories of World War II veterans, he realized how important it is to get these stories while they are still alive. Only three of the seven Never Satisfied crew members lived to get a copy of the book.
So Soale has begun collecting interviews, expanding his field to include Korean War and Vietnam War veterans as well, just to get things on record for future projects.
“A lot of people will say they don’t have any stories,” he said, “until you get them talking.”
Any veterans interested in participating in Soale’s oral history project can reach him at (513) 737-5958.
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