Fisher’s memories of that pivotal moment in American history are now archived at the Library of Congress, as part of the Veterans History Project. His contribution is notable, because veterans who live in the D.C. area are under-represented among the project’s nearly 98,000 stories, Veterans History Project spokeswoman Monica Mohindra says.
“The D.C. area has a lot of retired veterans, but for whatever reason, we haven’t heard as much from them,” she says.
A new campaign, funded by a $250,000 donation from the Cafritz Family Foundation, hopes to close that gap by encouraging D.C.-area residents to interview local World War II veterans for the project. The “Do Your Part” campaign, which runs through Veterans Day, provides volunteer training and gives people the rare opportunity to conduct interviews at the library.
“World War II veterans are a diminishing demographic,” Veterans History Project director Bob Patrick says. “It’s important that we capture their stories now, while they’re still with us.”
These stories offer insight into the human side of war, Patrick says. Fisher, for instance, had no idea how to react when he heard that atomic bombs had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Neither did most of the people in Guam at the time, he recalls.
“I hadn’t heard of the atomic bomb before, and I didn’t know what it meant,” he says.
It was only later, when Japan surrendered, that he understood what had happened, Fisher says.
Later, during the U.S. occupation of Japan, Fisher worked on a boat that fueled seaplanes. The boat sat at port for weeks at a time, so Fisher took that opportunity to travel the countryside, trading cigarettes and food for porcelain bowls and carved ivory.
“The Japanese were whipped, so they were hungry, and you could trade for antiques because they had to eat,” he says.
Wearing his military uniform, Fisher traveled through towns that had been completely flattened by U.S. bombing. The grass was brown, and the only thing standing for miles was the occasional metal bank vault.
“All of their structures were made of wood, and they all burned down,” he says.
Despite the devastation, Fisher never encountered outward resentment or even impoliteness. Instead, Japanese citizens went out of their way to help him find antique dealers in remote villages. One young man gave him a ride on his motorcycle, and another invited him to dinner with his family.
“We had some drinks of some kind — I didn’t know what they were — but I drank them anyway,” Fisher says.
Fisher served in the Navy for 20 years and then went on to be a stockbroker, a job he still does nearly full-time. As for the antiques he collected, they are sitting in a tall glass case in his home. On occasion, he takes them out to jog his memory of the war and his travels with the Navy afterward.
Thanks to the Veterans History Project, those memories will now be preserved for generations to come.
For more information, visit the Veterans History Project website or attend a training session at the Library of Congress’ Thomas Jefferson Building (10 First St. SE) on Sept. 25 at noon or 5:40 p.m. or Sept. 26 at 10:30 a.m.