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Standing in a voting line on Election Day 2000, Michael Rogers spotted an elderly man wearing an “I am a World War II veteran” cap. Rogers, a 33-year-old Baltimore resident and lifelong history buff—the first book he ever read was about the Battle of Midway—decided he wanted to hear the man’s story. The 10-minute discussion that followed—and especially the man’s assertion that no one cared about his experiences any longer—spurred Rogers to seek out more veterans. Thirty-one conversations later, he’d compiled Answering Their Country’s Call: Marylanders in World War II, an oral history of the men and women who, 60 years ago, left their homes in the Free State to fight for the Allies.
“Most people who I’ve met say, ‘My mom and dad never talked about their experience in the war,’” Rogers says. So “the book is completely their words about what they went through. They’re very stoic. They don’t want to be singled out for recognition. They got home and went on with their lives.”
The conversations in Answering Their Country’s Call are at once freewheeling and precise: Each veteran recounts his or her memories off the cuff, but with a remarkable level of detail. Each narrative seems awash in the sensory experience of the front lines: Rogers’ subjects describe the view from the cockpit of a B-29, the sounds of artillery fire, the smells of a Higgins boat.
“As much as we appreciate everybody’s effort, it’s the guys that fired the rifles or flew the planes who deserve our utmost appreciation and respect, because that’s what won the war,” Rogers says. And yet Answering Their Country’s Call creates a nuanced, comprehensive picture of both the extraordinary and the quotidian aspects of wartime life. Dorothy Davis, a former RN with the 57th Field Hospital in Europe who currently lives in Rockville, alternately describes how she washed clothes in her helmet and the overwhelming number of wounded during the Battle of the Bulge. “War isn’t just about the actual shooting,” Rogers says. “There are a lot of things about being in combat that people don’t realize. Some people may think [these details are] mundane, but they give us a better idea of what the whole experience was about.”
Rogers has a background in facility and event management; he’s filled that role for the Baltimore Orioles and will soon be working for the Baltimore Convention Center. But he isn’t ready to abandon his avocation just yet: Rogers has started looking for candidates for an oral-history project about the Korean War. “I’d like to do a trilogy, with World War II, Korea, and Vietnam,” he says. “I just love history. I don’t want to glamorize war. That’s not the intent. I want to glamorize people who served their country and wanted nothing in return.” —Josh Levin