The Arizona Republic     


By:  Clay Thompson   

Published  Monday 6/29/98

Section B1 - Cover Story

The stories are not those of generals or politicians, or of grand strategy and sweeping battlefield maneuvers.

They are the stories of hundreds of everyday people who, some 50 years ago, were thrust into a global battle against oppression and treachery.

You can find them, providing you have a computer, at the Drop Zone, a Web site organized by a historian to tell the oral histories of American airborne and Ranger forces in Europe and the Pacific during World War II. The address is

The site, which includes oral histories by several Valley veterans, was put up two years ago by Patrick O'Donnell, a 28-year-old business consultant from Fairfax Station, Va., with a lifelong interest in World War II.

Before the Drop Zone debuted on the Web, O'Donnell had spent four years gathering stories and photos, and interviewing hundreds of airborne veterans.

O'Donnell, who was born 25 years after the war, said, ''I've just been interested in World War II ever since I can remember. It's always been something that fascinated me.'' He limits his Web site to the oral histories of airborne troops - paratroopers, glider pilots and Rangers - ''because that's my area of expertise.''

Six friends assist him with editing and technical help, but even with their assistance, the project consumes O'Donnell.

''We are so busy that I feel like I have two jobs,'' he said.

O'Donnell's research takes him to the National Archives and veterans' reunions, and consumes hours of telephone time interviewing the ordinary men who won the war.

In addition to the oral histories, the site includes a ''virtual reunion'' page, where about 200 veterans have signed on to swap e-mail with their former comrades.

''We have so much stuff that I can't wait to get up on the site,'' O'Donnell said. ''We still have hundreds of unpublished photos.''

O'Donnell has worked with about 20 veterans groups to gather stories, and that is how he came across 83-year-old Al Ireland of Scottsdale.

Ireland, historian of the 505th Parachute Regiment, was a paratrooper who fought in Africa, Italy and France, including a 2 a.m. glider flight into Normandy on D-Day. He left the Army after the war as a lieutenant colonel.

O'Donnell recently interviewed Ireland about his war experiences and expects to post his story soon.

''My grandsons have come to me many times and said, 'We don't get enough education in our schooling about World War II.' They learn about the Revolutionary War and the Civil War and the War of 1812, but they don't know anything about World War II,'' Ireland said. ''This is a chance to educate.''

Gordon Yates of Phoenix left the Army after the war as a staff sergeant. He fought in Normandy, Holland and the Battle of the Bulge.

A mutual acquaintance referred him to O'Donnell, and he was eager to participate in the oral-history project.

''It's history that needs to be carried forth,'' Yates said. ''A lot of the younger generation may be whiz-bangs on the computer, but they don't know a thing about what the war was about. They need to know about it. Not the glory of war, but the gory of war. They need to be impressed.''

On his Web site, O'Donnell has two stories based on interviews with Joe Cicchinelli of Sun City West. One covers the liberation of the French city of La Turbia, the other is an account of a bayonet charge, a rare event in World War II.

Cicchinelli was a scout in the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion, and fought in France and Belgium. He was captured in the Battle of the Bulge and spent the last six months of the war as a POW.

''It's important that he puts this sort of stuff on the Interet so we can be recognized,'' Cicchinelli said.

O'Donnell, who does not sell advertising space on his Web site, is fascinated by his subjects.

''None of these people are self-promoting, but they all understand and recognize the importance of oral history.''

As Ireland said: ''I want to tell the stories of the guys in the foxholes, the privates and corporals . . . and the guys who had to fight on their bellies. I want people to know about the guts of these guys who maybe had six months' training and went up against (Germans) who had been in the Army for years and won.''

Color photo by Michael Chow/The Arizona Republic Joe Cicchinelli of Sun City West is a veteran of World War II. He served as a scout in the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion.



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