- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 17, 2009

Timothy Davis came to the United States 10 years ago and is currently helping American veterans revisit the site of their youthful battles.

Mr. Davis was born and raised in Melbourne, Australia. He came from a military family. Many of his ancestors fought alongside the United States, Britain and other Allied powers in both world wars. Eleven of Mr. Davis’ great uncles fought in World War I. His grandfather and two uncles fought in World War II.

Mr. Davis developed a passion to study his ancestors and World War II when he first learned that his grandfather fought in the Battle of New Guinea in 1943-44. This campaign was part of the American quest to liberate the Philippine Islands from Japanese occupation, among other military objectives.

“When I arrived in the U.S., I started talking to veterans. I wanted to learn about the American veterans’ experience,” Mr. Davis said in an interview. “I traveled to Europe for the 60th anniversary of D-Day. Many Allied veterans attended, but few were from the United States. I wondered why.”

He came home and began to research World War II veterans.

“I asked them three questions: Would they go back if they could; would they like to go with family members or other veterans; and could they afford the trip?” Mr. Davis said.

He discovered that most veterans would go back if they could, that they would prefer to go with other veterans, and that few could afford to do so on their own.

Mr. Davis, who lives in Denver, Colo., with his wife and two sons, founded the Greatest Generations Foundation in 2004, a nonprofit organization that funds veteran visits to the battle sites of their youth. He travels frequently to speak to groups, to host the foundation’s traveling museum and to turn his dream of helping veterans relive their past into reality.

“I wanted to take veterans to the places they fought and capture their stories on the battlefield,” Mr. Davis said.

On the first trip in 2004, he took 15 veterans to the 60th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge. Five years later, Mr. Davis partnered with the College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Mo. Twenty students accompanied 10 veterans to the 65th anniversary of D-Day last June.

The veterans relive their history and share it with young Americans. This is educational for the young as well as healing for the veterans, they say. According to many of the students who participated, these experiences change the way they view an older generation and World War II.

“So thanks for the incredible experience. It was life-changing,” wrote student Isaac Hatton to Mr. Davis after the June trip. In the letter, Isaac described his newfound appreciation for World War II veterans.

“Last week, I was in Wal-Mart and saw an old man in a wheel chair, missing both of his legs. I noticed he had a Navy hat on so I went over to ask him if he had served in World War II and to shake his hand. He was looking at toothpaste. It took a while to get his attention because he was a bit deaf, but I was finally able to get his attention and asked him about the war. Well, it turned out he had fought in the Pacific and he started telling me his whole story.

“I sat down on the floor there in the Wal-Mart toothpaste aisle for about half an hour as he talked about his experience and about his life after the war. People kept walking past staring at us. It was brilliant! His name is John Perona. He knew that he killed Japanese because he was a gunner on a ship. That still bothers him to this day. Near the end of our conversation he said that it really helped to talk about it, so I was just so thankful to have been there right at that moment. Before the trip to Normandy, I would have walked right past an old man in a wheelchair with a Navy hat on. Now there is no way I would miss the opportunity to thank him, even if I have to shout to get his attention!” wrote Isaac.

For the D-Day anniversary, the students and veterans traveled to London, crossed the English Channel to Utah Beach, Omaha Beach, Point-Du-Hoc and the Pegasus Bridge. Two students paired with each veteran to learn his story and the history of the battles. In her journal, undergraduate student Stephanie Ebling wrote a portrait of the men.

“It is clear to me that today, they are at their strongest,” she wrote. “I realize something very unexpected. They are greater men now than when they jumped out of a plane or charged off of a Higgins boat 65 years ago. For although their bodies are slowly failing, what is left is a priceless outcome that must certainly come from such a lasting sacrifice - gentle, selfless strength.”

Another group of veterans and students will visit Holland this month to mark the largest airborne battle in history, Operation Market Garden in 1944. The 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions took part in the only major Allied attempt to use airborne forces in a strategic role in Europe. This was the only major Allied defeat in the Northwest European campaign.

In December, Mr. Davis will take a group to the 65th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge. Each December, the foundation sponsors trips to Hawaii for Pearl Harbor survivors. Next year, the foundation will spearhead a visit to the Pacific for the 65th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima.

More information is available on the Greatest Generations Foundation’s Web site: www.tggf.us.

Pat McGrath Avery lives in Branson, Mo., and is secretary of the Military Writers Society of America. She also is the author of “The Sharon Rogers Band” and co-author of “Sunchon Tunnel Massacre Survivors.”

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