WWII History Preserved: Combat Veterans’ Interviews Recorded on Tape

Tags: Currents Brooklyn, NY, Faith, Family, Inspiration, Media, Queens, NY

by Jessica Easthope

Bob Abate’s Yonkers home is the only place you’ll find a piece of history that’s been lost to time. 

For the past 25 years Abate has been pressing “record” over and over as the Greatest Generation tells the graphic details of their service.

Voices that have screamed out from muddy foxholes, eyes that have seen the horrors of war, faces that have braved the enemy of freedom. 

Some stories were violent, some were shameful to tell, but if you ask Abate, every story is heroic.

“It’s gruesome and people don’t realize what war is like,” Abate said. “To me, there’s no such thing as Memorial Day one day a year, Veterans Day, one day a year, we enjoy their sacrifices every single day.”

Abate’s interviews of 200 World War II combat veterans live here and are burned into his memory. 

“In one way it was almost like going to confession because they could get it out and they wouldn’t have to deal with me ever again,” Abate said. “They are the finest young men this country has ever produced, and so that’s why I feel the obligation to tell the stories. I owe it to them.”

Abate, a Navy veteran who never saw combat, started his interviews when he retired. 

He’s spoken with servicemen and women from every branch of the military. 

“They went through horrors,” Abate said. “The one thing they all kind of share is survivor’s guilt. It’s a kind of thing they could never shake. They all have varying degrees of PTSD. There’s no way you could not have it.”

There are 300 hours of tapes and Abate transcribed them all by hand. 

“This is more than a hobby,” Abate said. “It’s something that I really treasure and respect.”

All 200 of his interview subjects have died. For many of them, Abate is the only person to ever hear their story.

The youngest WWII veteran would be about 96 years old today. 

Not many are willing or able to share their stories, but if there’s one veteran who is, Abate and his tape recorder are ready to go.