Faculty member and author Joe Covais was very clear in his lecture on Veterans Day.
“I’m not telling you about the content of the book…I’m telling you what the book is about in the big picture.”
The big picture Covais was referring to was service to the nation, and during his twenty minute talk followed by a twenty minute documentary, roughly sixty CCV community members came to learn how Covais’ research and writing granted him a better understanding of what this phrase means.Covais began his talk explaining how he was the son of a World War II veteran – a member of the 319th Glider Field Artillery Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division. He explained how he never dug very deep into his father’s past because growing up in the 1960s, WWII vets were everywhere, and the war itself didn’t feel much like history, and so he took it for granted. More so, he said, he didn’t ask because he knew the years his father served were difficult times that continued to be difficult to discuss. When Covais finally did begin asking more questions, he was late in doing so, because his father passed away more quickly than he’d expected.
“That left me with this great curiosity to try and understand the mystery of who my dad was…it really became a consuming question for me,” Covais said. “And without him, knowing that I’d never be able to talk to him again, the only alternative I had left was really to try and track down the other members of his outfit to see if any of them were still living.”
Covais was able to track down twenty of the soldiers who served with his father and the hours of interview material he gathered and research he conducted between roughly 2004 and 2009 have been crafted into his book Battery!: C. Lenton Sartain and the Airborne GIs of the 319th Glider Field Artillery. Covais stated that in writing the book, while he didn’t learn a lot about his father as an individual, he “learned a tremendous amount about the American people and about [his father’s] generation.”
Covais retold stories from his interviews that explained the bonds created between combat soldiers and explored the emotional memories WWII vets often have when recalling their war-time experiences. Ultimately, though, Covais said the interviews would inevitably come down to one message: service to the nation. And that message, he said, came across quite strongly when he asked an eighty-something-year-old veteran if there was anything else he’d like to add.
“‘I’m still an airborne trooper, I’ll always be an airborne trooper, and if the country calls me I’ll go again today,’” Covais said. “And then he said, ‘I love you all, I love this country, and God bless the United States of America.’ That’s how he closed his interview, and he was deceased a few months later.”
That same deference Covais witnessed more recently when he was invited to speak at All America Week at Fort Bragg, a reunion of sorts for the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. Covais spoke of meeting hundreds of veterans, from many of the nation’s wars, many of whom he said had served multiple tours. All of them, he said, responded similarly to his gratitude.“And you try to thank them for their service to the nation, and either implicitly or explicitly, their answer was ‘no no, it’s an honor to serve,’” Covais said. “And they weren’t just empty words, they really meant it, they meant every last word of it. It was for us just a humbling experience, an inspirational experience.”
After Covais’s talk, attendees watched a twenty-minute film made up of interview footage Covais shot of C. Lenton Sartain. In the film, Sartain walks viewers through his experiences as a glider man during training, the North Africa campaign, the Italy campaign, and finally, the European theater. Interspersed with the video footage of Sartain are hundreds of previously unpublished WWII photographs, all taken, Covais said, by the men of the 319th.
Covais closed by stating that writing the book gave him the opportunity to connect with a generation that is fast disappearing, noting that of the twenty interviewees featured, only three are still alive. Nonetheless, Covais’ book, and his Veterans Day lecture, preserves the idea that those members of the Greatest Generation hold most dear:
“They felt that service to the nation, service to their fellow citizens, was the most worthwhile thing the could have done.”