France in June
Volume 2, Issue 2
My narrative nonfiction collection retraces my grandfather’s tour as an Army combat engineer in WWII Europe: He fought at Normandy, Battle of the Bulge, the bridge at Remagen, and liberated concentration camps. Typically, my writing incorporates reportage, historical data, letters, travel writing, and oral storytelling; however, I have recently transformed my work into a podcast in order to truly embody the art of oral storytelling in voice and cadence. Historically speaking, soldiers rarely discuss combat, so how can we know their experience? In order to preserve history, to preserve the truth about war and its impact, we need veterans to speak, and we need to listen.
The podcast uses raw audio clips from interviews with the protagonist, my 85-year-old grandfather, who openly admits to never discussing the war because: “No one ever asked.” His narrative scenes set during the war are then read by a combat veteran. To be clear, there is no acting, as there is no need, allowing the dramatic actions to speak for themselves. For the debut episode, “France in June,” I take a bus tour to the Normandy beaches for the 65th anniversary of D-Day. I quickly realize I know little about the war. The braided narrative then flashes back to the Invasion of Normandy, following my grandfather Del as he supplies munitions to fellow combat engineers on Utah Beach. Del watches as the infantry drown and are mowed down by gunfire. The Navy and Army Air Corps conduct military maneuvers that Del believes killed both GIs and Germans. The listener is left to question the truth and what we remember as truth. To capture the combat experience, I impressed upon my brother, James DeFonzo, to read Del’s scenes. James served in the Marine Corps in Ramadi, Iraq. Perhaps if one GI could speak, then another, then another. Upon close of the podcast, I interview my brother about his tour. As we reflect on both stories, the podcast reveals that the soldier’s tale seems indifferent to time and place, and thematic resonance lies in how deeply connected the past is to the present.
My grandfather passed away in March 2018. As I said at his funeral, “No matter how hard I try, I will never be able to recreate the presence he had in a room.” But I’ll sure as hell try.