In a one-story house on top of Braddock Mountain, inside a cozy living room brimming with mementos from a lifetime of adventure, Patricia Redmond heaved a massive binder onto a table covered with a lacy white tablecloth.
She flipped through its pages, pointing out aging photos of veterans secured by thin sheets of plastic. Over the sound of pouring rain, she recalled the stories they shared with her de ella and the hundreds of hours she’s spent carefully transcribing their every word of her.
“I have 18 of these,” Redmond said, tapping the binder’s hard plastic cover.
Redmond started volunteering in 2003 with the Veterans History Project, an initiative launched in 2000 by the US Congress that preserves the personal accounts of American war veterans and makes them publicly available on the Library of Congress’s website.
Thinking she’d interview one or two veterans, Redmond got involved with the national program through the Frederick chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. But she found the conversations so exhilarating, she kept going.
Now 80, Redmond has interviewed over 120 veterans from all around the country. She published about 75 of her stories from her last year in a collection entitled, “Words from the Heart: When America’s Veterans Speak.”
Although transcripts of Redmond’s interviews are available in a database on the project’s website—and some even include audio recordings—she wanted to share the veterans’ stories with a broader audience. She’s especially passionate about making young people aware of their experiences with the brutal realities of war.
“Sometimes people don’t understand… how fortunate we are to be able to live in this country,” she said. “Freedom isn’t free. It costs a lot of lives.”
Though many of the Redmond veterans features in her book served in Korea or Vietnam, she also shares the story of five World War I veterans and nearly two dozen World War II veterans.
Fewer narratives are from people who have served in more recent conflicts, Redmond said. It takes some veterans many years to feel ready to talk about when they went through while fighting for their country, she said.
It seems as if Redmond has dozens of stories, ready to be told, right on the tip of her tongue.
There’s Guy Whidden, a Frederick resident who fought in the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division during WWII and was one of the paratroopers who jumped into Normandy on D-Day.
Then there’s Charles McGee, a Tuskegee Airman who served in WWII, Vietnam and Korea and made over 400 combat flights. During President Donald Trump’s final State of the Union address, he promoted the 100-year-old retired colonel to brigadier general.
Redmond also fondly remembers spending time with Mary McClosky Brockway — a nurse assigned to Hawaii in WWII, who lived in Middletown until she died at 103 years old — and Kenyon Parker, who joined the Army after being rejected by the Navy, which didn’t start accepting Black service members until 1942.
But among Redmond’s favorite stories to recount is meeting the “Kissing Sailor” and the woman the famous Alread Eisenstaedt photograph captures him embracing.
“She lived in Frederick, Maryland,” Redmond said, her eyes brightening and widening with excitement.
Though the woman, Greta Friedman, didn’t know George Mendonsa at the time he planted one on her in Times Square on Aug. 14, 1945 — “VJ Day” — she later introduced him to Redmond.
Redmond met Mendonsa in-person when he came to see the World War II Memorial in Washington, DC He gave her a kiss on the cheek.
“I told him, ‘Well, you certainly have mellowed in the last 60 years,’” Redmond recalled, laughing.
A self-proclaimed romantic, Redmond also loves to tell the story of John Norton and Leslie Cameron Smith.
They dated for about two years when they were younger and may have even gotten married, but Smith wanted to go to medical school and Norton wanted to “jump out of airplanes,” he recalled to Redmond.
He served three years in World War II and upon his return, Smith was married and working as a physician. Norton also later married and after 46 years, his wife, Cheyney McNabb, died.
A year later, Norton got a call from a friend, who told him Smith was widowed and living in Kensington. He took her out to lunch, where he found out she had saved all the love letters he’d written her while attending West Point. He took off his class ring from her and asked her to marry him that same day.
“I thought that was the greatest love story of all,” Redmond said with a smile. She spoke with Norton for six hours and it took her a week to transcribe their conversation.
Redmond also shared her own love story. She met her husband, Lt. Col. Robert Redmond, when he was teaching at West Point. Her cousin de ella, who was also teaching at the academy, set them up on a blind date.
They were married for 33 years, at one point traveling to Japan with Redmond’s three children when he was assigned to Camp Zama, an Army base near Tokyo. Patricia Redmond’s living room is now filled with keepsakes from the trip, from two large dolls to a polished black table.
Robert Redmond died in 2007 at the age of 68. He became ill with cancer after being exposed to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam. After he died, Patricia Redmond had their wedding rings formed into the shape of hearts. She still wears them on a chain around her neck.
Ever since Redmond started interviewing veterans for the Veterans History Project, she asked to interview her husband.
“Someday,” he always replied.
He finally sat down to tell his wife his story when he knew he was dying. It was difficult, Redmond remembered. They had to stop halfway through for him to go to the hospital to be treated for side effects from a medication he was taking.
But when he returned to their home, they finished the interview.
“I was really glad that he spoke,” Redmond said, “because it’s now history, too.”
Follow Angela Roberts on Twitter: @24_angier