HELEN PREISS KUSHNER
U.S. warplane builder
A real-life “Rosie the Riveter”—the term for American women who worked in defense plants—Kushner, now 94, was helping build Navy dive bombers in a Detroit factory when V-E Day arrived.
U.S. Army veteran
Margol, 96, enlisted in the U.S. Army immediately after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Known to friends and family as Hibby, Margol served in the legendary 42nd Rainbow Division alongside his twin brother, Howard.
Webb, 97, was 18 and taking a home economics course when she joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service—the women’s army—and was ordered to report to Bletchley Park, Britain’s top secret code-breaking center.
COURAGE in the face of FEAR
Polinsky, 99, flew clandestine missions over Nazi-occupied Europe, dropping Allied spies and delivering vital supplies to resistance fighters. More than 200 of his fellow airmen ended up missing, imprisoned, or killed in combat.
Trained in Russia’s far north, Rudinsky, 98, learned to navigate in treacherous weather without reliable maps. His dive bomber was frequently hit by enemy fire, but he recalls feeling fear only after landing.
HARRY T. STEWART, JR.
Just 10 of the famed Tuskegee Airmen—the first African-American military aviators—remain today, and retired Lieutenant Colonel Stewart is one of them. He realized his dream to fly in 1944, when he began escorting American bombers to their targets across Europe.
Soviet combat medic
Trapped in the besieged city of Stalingrad in southern Russia, Rokhlina survived months of deadly cold and fierce, house-to-house fighting. She was just 16 when she had her first of many close brushes with death.
U.S. Army veteran
Weighed down with a radio and other gear, Waitzman, now 94, had to jump from a troop ship into a pitching landing craft on D-Day, when Allied forces invaded German-occupied France. He made it; others weren’t so lucky.
U.S. Marine Corps veteran
The battle for the island of Iwo Jima was among the most brutal of World War II in the Pacific. Montgomery, 95, was one of the few marines to endure the entire 36-day fight. Of 50 men in his unit, only a half dozen or so survived.
Gregg, 100, was part of a doomed British airborne unit dropped into the Battle of Arnhem in September 1944. The fighting was fierce, hand to hand. The paratroopers held out heroically for six days but were finally overrun.
The Trauma of war
German Army veteran
As a teen, Brockmann, now 93, was a proud member of the Hitler Youth who helped operate an antiaircraft searchlight near Berlin. But when he went off to fight the Soviets, he witnessed atrocities that changed his outlook.
There’s no escaping her memories of February 25, 1945—the day American B-29s firebombed Tokyo. Now 89, Takeuchi works as a storyteller at a center dedicated to bearing witness to the horrors of war.
Motoki, 85, was 10 years old when firebombs rained down on Tokyo, leaving her an orphan and killing more Japanese civilians than the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.
Peace came at a high cost. Treasure it.
Building Hitler’s war machine put multitudes of unemployed Germans to work, says Simonsohn, 100, who became a fighter pilot. But the ensuing carnage made him a pacifist who welcomed the Third Reich’s downfall.
Soviet Army veteran
Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945, but Morshtein and his comrades were still fighting staunch German holdouts more than six weeks later. At last, on July 8, they marched into Leningrad for a victory celebration.
As a girl of 12 in German-occupied Belarus, Danilkovich, now 90, secretly relayed messages to resistance fighters. “Kids could get through without an ID,” she says. The last message she delivered was to her town, shouting from her bike—the Allies had won.
More from National Geographic: Relive dramatic events of the war through the people who remember it. See World War II in Europe: Voices From the Front, Thursday, May 21, at 8/7c on National Geographic.