WebWarrior: The DropZone.org
ACG: What was the thing that got you interested in military history?
Patrick: In my case, I don’t think there was one thing that got me into military history. From age five or so, military history and the Second World War seemed to run through my blood. By age seven or eight, I had a library containing several hundred military history titles. Moreover, when other kids were bringing their baseball cards in for "show and tell" I was bringing in my Grandfather’s Hungarian cavalry saber to class.
The WWII veterans in my family were also an inspiration. We lost several family members during the war but those who survived, such as my great uncle who was a paratrooper, would not talk about his experience. My relatives only told me a few snippets about the war, so for me the real breakthrough occurred when I ran into a pathfinder from the 82nd Airborne Division who parachuted into Normandy. He introduced me to his war, which was very personal, emotional and filled with combat. I was the first person he talked to about the war. It was a cathartic experience for him; he openly broke down in front of me.
After our discussion, he encouraged me to interview his friends. From there the interviews kept snowballing. First, vets from the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 505th and 325th. Next, I interviewed the independent airborne units such as 509, 503rd, 555, 517, and 551. Later, I interviewed the Marine Raiders, Rangers, and First Special Service Force, basically, all of America’s elite infantry units in the war. Whenever possible, I also interviewed German or Japanese veterans: the Waffen SS and paratroopers.
In 1996, a friend of mine encouraged me to put some of these amazing oral histories and scrapbooks on the Web. I created www.thedropzone.org, the first WWII oral history website and virtual museum.
Instead of static artifacts, the stories of the men became the focus. Their personal stories, the "hidden war" that they kept to themselves for over 60 years. I also utilized email to interview veterans. This was pioneering at the time and I called the technique "e-history." As the site grew in popularity, the veterans themselves encouraged me to take the project to the next level and write a book. BEYOND VALOR: WORLD WAR II’s RANGER AND AIRBORNE VETERANS REVEAL THE HEART OF COMBAT was published in 2001 and a bestseller for Simon & Schuster. I’m currently working on my forth book.
ACG: What, if any, computer training/experience did you have prior to starting your own site?
Patrick: Prior to becoming a full-time historian and writer, I worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers as a senior management and IT consultant. I had some web training at PWC but for the most part I learned on the job.
ACG: What training/experience in military history do you have?
Patrick: I’m a historian and expert on WWII espionage and special operations. For the past twelve years I’ve interviewed over 1,400 of America’s elite agents and troops. I’ve written three books published through Simon & Schuster. BEYOND VALOR was the winner of the prestigious William E. Colby Award for Outstanding Military History (over fifty of America’s top historians and authors selected the book). INTO THE RISING SUN: In Their Own Words, World War II’s Pacific Veterans Reveal the Heart of Combat, captures the history of the America’s elite infantry in the Pacific (Rangers, Merrill’s Marauders, Airborne, and Marine Raiders.) My most recent book, OPERATIVES, SPIES AND SABOTEURS: Unknown Story of The Men and Women of WWII’s OSS, is the first agent-level history of America’s first CIA and special operations.
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