Brad Hoopes is a historian, he stands in awe of military veterans and he’s a listener who loves to hear people’s stories. Several years ago, after reading Tom Brokaw’s “The Greatest Generation,” Hoopes put those three things together, got himself a video camera and set out to preserve the stories of World War II veterans. A story about his project printed in a 2006 edition of the North Forty News got him thinking that perhaps the veterans’ stories deserved to be in print as well.
The result is the publication of “Reflections of Our Gentle Warriors” in November 2015. Subtitled “Personal Stories of World War II Veterans,” Fort Collins resident Hoopes has paid more attention to the veterans’ personal lives than to stark facts and figures. The stories are extracted from conversations he had with these men and women lasting from an hour to an hour and a half. Often they revealed things they had never shared with anyone before. The wife of one veteran called Hoopes to let him know that her husband had slept through the night for the first time in 60 years after sharing his story.
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Hoopes has interviewed and produced DVDs for 350 World War II veterans. His first goal was to record their stories so the veterans’ families would have a permanent record, never to be lost or forgotten. A second goal was to preserve and share the stories with public institutions so that future generations can learn from these warriors. More than 500 World War II veterans pass away every day, taking their stories with them. The 70 stories in his book tell the tales of Northern Colorado veterans. They are quite short, honest, uncomplicated and revealing.
Hoopes likes to point out that this generation marched off to war, came home and moved on with their lives without missing a beat. But many suffered from what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, without the benefit of a diagnosis or any outside help. In the course of recording the men’s stories, Hoopes came to realize that what he was doing was helping these survivors to cope with issues they’d been quietly dealing with for more than half a century.
He also likes to point out that many of these warriors had not yet emerged from their teen years when great responsibility and hellish situations were suddenly thrust upon them. Many had never traveled more than 50 miles from their homes and were woefully ignorant of the wider world.
Hoopes is a man with a passion. “I’ll never quit interviewing veterans,” he said. World War II veterans won’t be around much longer but Hoopes said he plans to interview veterans of the Korean War, Vietnam and beyond. “There will always be veterans to tell their stories,” he said. He makes contact with veterans through his volunteer position at Northern Colorado Honor Flight and by word of mouth.
A resident of Windsor, Hoopes works at United Health Care and is able to set his own hours. Telling these stories are his first priority and his passion.
Reflections of Our Gentle Warriors is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Owl Canyon Coffee Shop has a copy to read while you sip an espresso. For more information go to rememberandhonor.com.