This week on Liz Collin Reports, a retired veteran who has impacted many discussed his project of 35-plus years to educate the public on World War II.
Don Patton is a retired U.S. Army colonel who served 30 years in the military, with almost half of his time spent in leadership positions.
He was just a young boy during WWII, but he always felt drawn to learning about the war. A sixth-grade history teacher who was a war veteran, a “marine hero,” planted a seed in Patton that grew into a desire to serve the country.
Last month, Patton accepted the Fox News Ultimate Patriot Award for both his service in the military and his tireless efforts to keep WWII history alive with a roundtable project.
Patton and a University of Minnesota professor, Dr. Harold Deutsch, formed the World War II History Round Table in 1987.
With fewer people alive today who served in WWII, the history is slowly disappearing, and the intent of the roundtable is to keep the history and stories thriving by featuring talks from WWII vets.
When the organization was founded in 1987, Patton said about the first third of its existence was spent “just trying to find veterans.”
One such featured speaker was a vet from Wayzata who had planned the southern invasion of France. He spoke on the difficulty of planning that invasion, which came just two and a half months after the Normandy beach landings.
Another veteran from southern Minnesota had been a combat photographer in WWII.
“We would just find these people that hadn’t told their story,” Patton said. “I always had a very easy time reaching out to these World War II veterans, getting them to open up with their stories.”
Patton shared that this photographer had never even told his daughters the stories he shared at the roundtable event.
They also brought in prominent historians to teach on WWII.
Patton said he is concerned about military recruitment numbers today and the lack of leadership.
“People are afraid to make the hard calls, the right calls, in favor of trying to do a popular call,” he said.
He’s also worried about history disappearing if young people don’t know their family histories.
He often asks young people who attend his events if their families were in WWII.
“Oftentimes there’s this blank expression on their face,” he explained. “They don’t know their own roots and I think that is so important … studying who you are, who you came from, the events of history that impacted all those previous generations is such an important part of where we are today.”
Stories are lost if people stop asking questions, he said.
“I hope that the significance of the Fox Patriot Award is a recognition of what we have done. It’s not about me, it’s about the team, the volunteers, that run the roundtable,” Patton said.
“It’s enriched my life, and I think it’s enriched the lives of those involved,” he continued.
The World War II Round Table meets at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul on the second Tuesday of every month, from September through May.