People enjoy a variety of different hobbies. Some do crafts, some work out, and some prefer relaxing on the couch while binge-watching an entire Netflix series.
Patrick McCue is the exception to the rule.
His hobby is listening to the stories of WWII veterans and retelling their tales to the world. He’s turned his passion into an organization called They Gave It All. His fervor to document these heroes of a bygone era educates every generation who takes time to listen and read the narratives he constructs.
And throughout this years-long project, it’s changed him. So much so, we jumped at the chance to sit down with Patrick to learn all about his project, who he is, and his journey to bringing it all together.
This is his story.
- First off, who are you and what do you do?
I’m a 29-year-old photographer and history buff who shoots full time for a local automotive company, spends time with his lovely fiancée, and enjoys both cycling and 1940s reenactment. I also spend time with WWII veterans.
- What exactly is They Gave It All?
They Gave It All is an educational organization that I founded to help existing organizations working with WWII veterans to preserve as many stories as possible. My goal is also to push these stories to the younger generations across social media platforms. If you look at history books in schools today, you may find one chapter covering the entire war. I want the younger generations to know what it was like growing up during the depression, and what normal civilians thrust into war experienced.
- How many people have you interviewed for They Gave It All?
I’ve done 42 full interviews with WWII veterans and have met around 100 more at various events and reunions both here and outside of Cincinnati. My interviews consist of 3-4 hours of talking with the veterans about their lives during the war, taking their portraits, and 8-10 hours of transcribing the audio into a fluid, polished story.
- What inspired you to start They Gave It All? How does it continue you to inspire you?
I’ve been extremely interested in WWII history ever since I was a little kid. My grandfather told me about the experiences of all four of my grandmother’s brothers who served in both the Army and Navy, at home and abroad, during events like the Battle of Midway and the Battle of the Bulge. All of them survived the war and shared their stories with my grandfather.
I’m a huge fan of Band of Brothers, so when Easy Company's Bill Guarnere passed away in March 2014, something fell heavy on my heart. I realized these guys weren’t going to be around forever. So I made it my mission to meet at least one WWII veteran before it was too late. Now that I have met close to 150 of them, all I want to do is meet more.
Meeting these men, who have gone through the worst possible experiences imaginable, has humbled me beyond words. Their stories are reminders to live every day to its fullest because so many 18-, 19-, and 20-year-old boys never had the privilege to grow old.
- What is the most memorable interview you’ve given to date?
The most memorable interview was in the fall of 2015, with brothers Clarence and Robert Arand. The Arand brothers were both pilots in WWII; Clarence was a B-17 pilot flying combat missions in Europe, and Robert was a B-24 pilot who flew combat missions in the Pacific.
They came home for leave at the same time before being shipped overseas, and today they live next door to each other in Cincinnati. After their interview, I captured a portrait of them holding a picture of themselves while they were home at their parents’ Northside home right before they were shipped off to war.
- There’s a video component to the site. Tell me about that.
When I began this journey in January of 2015, I was volunteering at the Tri-State Warbird Museum, and a friend of mine, Jamie Allender, who’s a talented local videographer, helped me produce a five-part video series for the museum. Our friend Greg D’ Amico created an amazing intro using personal photos from the featured veterans, and we had a beautiful score composed exclusively for the series.
The time that went into creating these incredible video pieces was more than we could give since we all had full time jobs, so following the series, I took the entire project under my wing and went to a simple recorded audio style interview. I also included my “Then and Now” portraits, which have become very popular with those who follow my work.
- What’s the goal for They Gave It All? What do you hope to achieve with it?
The goal has always been to capture and preserve as many stories as possible to share with the world, especially the younger generations. But, I also eventually want to publish a book with the stories. How cool would that be?
- You’ve made mention of becoming friends with WWII veterans online. How does talking to them about their lives change your own?
I do have a large amount of WWII pals that I stay in contact with via email and Facebook... Yes, the WWII guys love Facebook!
The most incredible thing that happened to me, though, is that I became best friends with two local WWII veterans named Chester and Frank after I interviewed them in 2015. Talking to and spending time with them has changed my entire life. This journey has humbled me so much, and I wish everyone would take the time to get to know someone from that generation. They’ve lived through the toughest times and are some of the happiest people I have ever met.