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What Lessons Can We Learn from the USS Arizona?

A Conversation with Tim Gray 

At CoreLogic, supporting veterans is close to our hearts. One organization that we are proud to align with is the World War II Foundation. On Veterans Day, they will release a documentary, Elvis and the USS Arizona, and CoreLogic is a presenting sponsor.

In this episode, host Maiclaire Bolton Smith speaks with Tim Gray from the WWII Foundation to learn more about the documentary and the foundation.

Maiclaire Bolton Smith:

Welcome back to Core Conversations, a CoreLogic podcast. I am your host, Maiclaire Bolton Smith. And I’m the senior leader of research and content strategy with CoreLogic. In this podcast, we’ll have conversations with industry experts about key topics from housing affordability to the impacts of natural disaster on property. At CoreLogic, we have four main pillars that guide our philanthropic efforts. And supporting our veterans is a huge one for us, which is really close to our hearts. Along with our military engagement association employee resource group at CoreLogic, we also have a program called Leap, which is designed to help junior military officers transition into the private sector while taking advantage of the knowledge, learning and experience gained through military service.

MBS:

And as we continue this commitment outside of our company, one organization that we’re proud to team up with is the World War II Foundation. For veterans day, they released a documentary called Elvis in the USS Arizona, for which CoreLogic was a presenting sponsor. The documentary recaps efforts to build a Memorial for those 1,177 crew men who died aboard the USS Arizona during Pearl Harbor and how Elvis Presley was instrumental in making it happen. So to dive into this today, we welcome Tim Gray, documentary film writer and founder and president of the World War II Foundation. Tim, welcome to Core Conversations.

Tim Gray:

Thank you. It’s an absolute honor to be with you guys today.

MBS:

Well, let’s start off by learning a little bit about you. How did you get into documentary film writing and how did the World War II Foundation come to be and why is this cause so important?

TG:

Do we have about seven hours? I mean, if this that podcast, we can certainly cover all that. Actually, I’ll give you the short version. I was a television sportscaster for about 15 years.

MBS:

Oh.

TG:

Worked around the country doing that, but I always had this amazing fascination with world war II since I was probably about six years old when I picked up my first book and read these incredible stories. So I took my journalism degree and spent 15 years doing TV sports around the United States.

TG:

And then when I decided I wanted to make a career change, I decided what I wanted to do was take that journalism background, the writing and the video and all the video production work that we did and do documentary films on world war II. So we did our first film in 2006, where we took four D-Day veterans back to Normandy to show us where they were on D-Day and their personal stories. And that led into our second. And now we’re working on our 29th. So it’s been an amazing story.

MBS:

Wow.

TG:

Of going back to the places where all these stories played out, whether that be Auschwitz concentration camp or Guadalcanal island in the Pacific. So we shoot everything on location. And a lot of times, at least in the past, we’ve tried to take veterans back with us, although that’s getting a little more difficult.

MBS:

Right. Well, talk about following your passion. That is so great. And I’m so glad we have you here to chat. And a lot of our listeners might be thinking CoreLogic is a property data analytics company, what do they have to do with world war II? So can you talk a little bit about what’s the story between our relationship here at CoreLogic and the World War II Foundation?

TG:

Well, the CEO of CoreLogic Frank Martell, his father-in-law is a world war II veteran recently turned a hundred years old.

MBS:

Wow.

TG:

So when we first started talking with Frank number one, he told us about Frank number two and his time in Europe and being taken as a prisoner of war by the Germans. So Frank really understood the connection with that greatest generation and why it was so important for future generations to understand what that generation did. I mean, we are who we today because of what they did. And there’s an example right there that Frank Martell was looking at almost every day to see his father-in-law, who really lived that whole we saved the world time.

TG:

And I think there’s a lot you can learn from that generation. And I think with Frank Martell just having interacted so long with his father-in-law, he learned about the great values of that generation, the work ethic of that generation and really everything that blueprint that, that generation left us. There were a bunch of teenagers who saved the world. And I think it also helps you to overcome adversity, whether you’re in a corporate setting, or if it’s in a private setting. When you’re facing adversity, I always bring up that generation who stared at adversity and kept moving forward.

TG:

So they really have become a symbol in my life, in Frank Martell’s life and a lot of other people’s lives about when you face adversity, remember what that generation did. They moved off the beach, they put their helmet on a little tighter and they kept moving forward and they saved the world. So there are a lot of lessons to be learned that are around today in a corporate environment that go back to the 1940s in that particular generation.

MBS:

Yeah. And thank you for sharing that. And that really, I mean, off the top, I talked about how this is so important to us here at CoreLogic. And it really is driven by Frank Martell and his passion and what he’s instilled in us as a company. And actually, my father-in-law also is a world war II veteran, but he’s no longer with us.

MBS:

So I feel like there’s so much I don’t know, because I haven’t had that connection of those stories being passed down and stories that we want to tell our children that my husband is from, from his father. But it’s so I’m happy to have this conversation with you today and really kind of dive into some of this. And so let’s just start talking about the film, the documentary. Can you tell us a little bit more about it? What story does it tell?

TG:

We spend a lot of time out at Pearl Harbor. So we’ve been out there probably to film maybe 14 or 15 times out at the USS Arizona. So when you’re out there and you’re talking to the historians out there and you’re even talking to the veterans out there, these stories start to percolate about the man, Joe George, for instance, who saved the final six men off the USS Arizona. So we ended up doing the film on that because we thought it was an incredible story that needed to be preserved and not many people knew about it. Then Elvis comes up of all people and they’re, “Did you know Elvis’s role in all this?”

TG:

And I said, “Well, Elvis was born in 1935. So I don’t think as a six year old Elvis was at Pearl Harbor.” But it’s not until 1961, do we find out that Elvis played a real important part in getting the USS Arizona Memorial built. And all of a sudden that story starts to lay itself out. And so what we did is we went back out to Pearl Harbor and we interviewed a whole bunch of people who went to this benefit concert that Elvis held at Pearl Harbor on March 25th, 1961. And ironically some, of the people who attended that concert in 1961 had also witnessed the actual attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 as five year olds, as six year olds.

TG:

So all these pieces of this puzzle start to come together. And the USS Arizona was struggling to raise money for a Memorial to the battleship. And it wasn’t until Elvis held that concert that the momentum was regained and they were able to raise all the money necessary, a half million dollars plus to get that Memorial built. Elvis would always go to Hawaii after that and always pay homage and would always go visit the Memorial and not with, there wasn’t a lot of publicity about it. He would just go. And he was very moved. He didn’t know the story until it was explained to him before the concert. So it became a part of his legacy and a little known part of his legacy that the Memorial probably wouldn’t be there today if it wasn’t for the role of the king of rock and roll.

MBS:

This is fascinating, Tim. Oh my goodness. I’m no history buff. I was completely unaware of the struggle to create, to get a Memorial and even more so that Elvis was such an instrumental part of making it happen. And just hearing you talk and I love your passion and I just, I love that we’re having this conversation. And I can’t help, but wonder is, how do you find this story or did this story just find you?

TG:

As I said, I know a lot of people in Hawaii and one of the people that we deal with a lot is a guy named Daniel Martinez, who probably is the chief historian in the world on the USS Arizona. And there’s so many stories about the USS Arizona, that it was the battleship where 1,177 Marines and sailors were killed. It was ground zero, if you will in 1941. I mean almost half of those killed during the entire Pearl Harbor attack, 2,400.

TG:

Of those 2,400 Americans who died during the attack, 1,177 were on one battleship, the Arizona. So Daniel is the chief a historian for the USS Arizona. And I would always be picking his brain saying, “What hasn’t been done about the Arizona?” He said, “Well, there’s a story about Joe George. He saved the last six guys off the Arizona. He was on a different ship.” I’m, “Let’s do it. Let’s call Gary Sinise and let’s have him narrate the film for us.”

MBS:

Wow.

TG:

So we did that. I said, “What else do you have for me that maybe is something that will get the non world war II buff interested?” And he said, “Well, Elvis played a role in getting the Arizona built.” I’m, “What?” And then he goes into the story and I said, “This is a fascinating story. So we have to find people who went to the concert, we have to show the concert, we have to do all these things. We have to tell people about how this Memorial, it came to fruition.”

MBS:

Yeah.

TG:

And so stories find us, we find stories. We’re always asking a lot of questions, what hasn’t been done? What film hasn’t been told. So we’re always looking for new topics, new ways to motivate people to learn more about that generation and that important time period.

MBS:

Yeah. And I think that that is so important because as you mentioned, we’ve got fewer and fewer world war II veterans around these days. I mean, it just, we’re in 2021 now, and it’s been a number of years since world war II. And I can hear your passion and how we know it’s so important to keep these stories going on. Because the people who lived it themselves are not necessarily still here to tell those stories themselves.

MBS:

And I think too about other kind of relations of relating to this story and how it might resonate, not just with world war II, but as we passed different milestones. And the one that passed more recently is the 20th anniversary of nine nine 11. So can we talk a little bit about how it kind of relates to some other things that have happened since world war II?

TG:

There are two moments in American history where we were caught by surprise and resulted in devastation and resulted in war. And the first was December seventh, 1941. And then September 11th obviously, was the second. And the similarities between the two are extraordinary. I always say history doesn’t necessarily repeat itself, but it rhymes.

TG:

So when people talk about nine 11 and younger people are talking about it. And they say, “I can’t believe this happened.” And then I said, “Well, you know, while this is the 20th anniversary of nine 11, this is also the 80th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, which was our first nine 11, if you will.”

MBS:

Yeah.

TG:

Surprise attack. We were not prepared. We didn’t know it was coming. It catapulted us into a war. So the similarities are that history provides us an opportunity to always be vigilant and always to be aware that things can happen again. So we always have to keep our guard up in some ways. So nine 11 to me was really just so connected with what happened on December 7th and how the nation responded with patriotism on the day after. December 8th, 1941 and September 12th, 2001 were two of the most patriotic in the history of the United States of America.

TG:

And it’s a time when America came together. So the question is, okay, how do you take those times of September 12th, 2001 and December 8th, 1941. And how do you bring Americans together when it doesn’t involve an attack on our country? How come we can’t solve our are problems and come together in other times? And proof has shown that we can come together as a nation. So why does it take our nation being attacked for us to sit down at the table and say, “Let’s work this out. Let’s come together for a common good. Let’s be a team, let’s not be divided.”

TG:

And unfortunately, it takes some thing like that to bring our country together where we’re not Republicans and we’re not Democrats, and we’re not this and we’re not that, and we’re not Red Sox fans, and we’re not Yankees fans, we’re Americans. And it takes an act like that to bring us together, which is a shame when you really think about it. That the underlying potential is there for us to solve a lot of our problems if we all approached our country a little bit more in terms of unity and reacting as a country, rather than as individuals.

MBS:

Yeah. And I’ll add a different perspective. In two ways, I’ll add a different perspective to that is I actually didn’t grow up in this country. I’m from Canada. And I think even being Canadian, it just, it, it’s not just about patriotism, it’s about being human and about being people. And it takes apart the side of all borders are gone and all labels are gone. And it’s just about being human. And I kind of got goosebumps as you were talking.

MBS:

And the other kind of thing that resonated in my mind too, is just a little tie back to CoreLogic on a completely different note is one thing we talk about in the natural hazard world a lot is, know your risk to help accelerate your recovery. And that’s really exactly the same sentiment of what we’re going at here is knowing and understanding a risk at what could happen of something like this level, so that you be prepared for it and not so taken off guard. Yeah. Just, those are kind of two of the things that kind of resonated with me as you were, as I got goosebumps, as you were talking through this, Tim, so.

TG:

It’s a lot of it is crisis management.

MBS:

Yeah.

TG:

And you see that throughout world war II, they always talk about plans. And the plan for D-Day went caput after the first shot was fired. So then training kicks in. So I’ve spoken around the country to a lot of CEOs and groups like state farm and colleges. And we talk about the lessons of world war II apply to educational or corporate setting in 2021.

MBS:

Yeah.

TG:

And a lot of it is preparation. And it’s when it all breaks down, are your people trained well enough to keep moving forward? And that was the case on D-Day, especially when a Sergeant would be killed or a Lieutenant would be killed, but then the private or the corporal would step up because knew they were prepared, they were trained, they would lead the charge forward.

TG:

So even in small groups, in a corporate setting, there’s always that one person, if that person is taken from the group, will the other people in the group be able to lead that group forward? And that all goes back to again, training and preparation. And that goes back to world war II. When every plan, every battle plan on paper would always fall apart at the moment the battle began. And then what do you do?

MBS:

Yeah.

TG:

So it resonates today. And I keep emphasizing that it resonates today. This isn’t the revolutionary war. This isn’t that long ago.

MBS:

Yeah.

TG:

I mean, 75 years in the course of history is not a long time. So in Europe, at least it’s not a long time. Over here we kind of think it’s yesterday.

MBS:

Yeah, no definitely resonates and definitely not a long time. And something that there are many people that have personal connections to this.

TG:

Yes.

MBS:

Because they do have family members, even if they’re not around anymore, that were directly impacted, directly a part of this. So okay, I want to dive into the Elvis aspect of this Because I think that that’s just such a fascinating part of it. And I think people will be excited about this too, is Elvis really in so many ways is probably one of the earliest examples of crowdfunding and raising his hand and volunteering to a cause that really matters.

MBS:

And clearly it was really important to him. So we’re not all rock stars who can have the same sort of impact as Elvis. And he was huge in his time. I mean, he’s still huge today, but in his time he was definitely huge. What do you think normal everyday people, what can we learn from these actions? How can we do something to make a difference?

TG:

I think the first step is finding out what you want to make a difference with or in. Some people today, everyone has their own cause and there’s so many worthwhile causes out there, health causes and there are just so many causes out there, climate, everything that’s going on in the world, you just have to decide what cause is dearest to you and maybe even affects your own life. If it’s Alzheimer’s, if you’ve had somebody in your family with cancer, it could be the climate crisis.

TG:

It could be anything, but just take that first step and get involved and it could be donating $10 to a GoFundMe, or it could be reaching out to a local chapter that’s involved with a cause that’s near and dear to your heart and getting involved, volunteering in some way. History is a very difficult sell in terms of causes. And trying to get this social media frenzied world to stop for a minute and think about men like Dwight Eisenhower, and think about men who led the world in a crucial time.

TG:

So we’re always so focused on what’s going on now, the next tweet, the next Facebook post and everything else that we find out out that there are many people who’ve come before us who took up the cause. And they became successful in their cause because they just got involved. You don’t have to solve a climate crisis, or you don’t have to cure cancer yourself. But you can get involved in some way and give a little bit of yourself. Everyone’s so busy, give a little bit of yourself to some cause that matters to you. And that first step is a Google search in finding out how you get involved.

MBS:

Yeah.

TG:

In something that resonates within your own family or your community. And it doesn’t have to define your life, it doesn’t have to take over your life, but maybe you can give 2% of your life to it. And all those two percenters add up to a hundred percent. So I know there are things that I’m passionate about that have helped me to overcome all these obstacles of fundraising, to help overcome all these obstacles of just trying to educate young people about things that happened a long time ago. And the most difficult thing is with the younger generation, you have to kind of put it in their terms. You have to educate them on their age.

TG:

You have to talk to a teenager about what it was like to be a teenager in world war II. So you have to understand how kids are educated these days. And they learn visually and through social media and we employ all those avenues. We don’t sit there and say, “Oh, we’re not going to ever post on Facebook” or “We’re not going to ever talk to kids about video games they’re playing about world war II.” Well, guess what? That’s how kids are learning these days. So we’re open.

MBS:

Yeah.

TG:

So I think that’s the long answer to a short question. I think just finding out what brings a little something to your own heart is the way to go with that.

MBS:

Yeah. Little things really do add up. When a lot of people do a little bit, it becomes a lot. And just finding something you’re passionate about and just taking that first step. And I completely agree with you on that. So I guess, just to wrap up today, Tim, what does the future hold for the World War II Foundation, and what lessons from the past do you think are the most important for all of us to hold onto?

TG:

Our future, we’ve been over the years, we’ve been collecting these interviews, dozens at a time since 2006, because we knew as we moved down the line that these guys would not be here anymore, these men and women and these survivors. So we have enough interviews that 80% of our interviews haven’t seen the light of day yet, and we’ve done 29 films.

MBS:

Wow.

TG:

So we have so many incredible stories in our archive, our video archive now of men who’ve passed away five or 10 or 15 years ago. So we’re going to continue to do what we do because we find that with PBS and American public television, there’s an insatiable appetite for this. Our films are actually ranked in the top five of most requested programs nationally by PBS stations, which me that people want to hear these stories and which will hopefully lead them to go Google D-Day or Auschwitz or Pearl Harbor or the Tuskegee airmen or something along Rosie The Riveters, along those lines.

TG:

So we just want to be a conduit to keeping the stories of that generation alive so that they can continue to influence us into the future and really look at them as a blueprint for how we can become a better nation and become better as people. So that’s kind of our goal and we hope to keep moving in that direction. We keep heading off the beach, even though we’re being shot at a lot.

MBS:

Yeah.

TG:

Not literally, but there are a lot of things when you’re trying to educate about history and a lot of challenges, but we keep moving forward.

MBS:

Well, Tim, that is a beautiful sentiment for us to end on today. And this has been such a pleasure to chat with you and to learn more and just to hear about your passion and to hear about what you’re doing and hopefully inspire people, whether it be about world war II veterans, or about something else that they are passionate about, just to take that step, make a little difference. Make it be the change we want to see in this world.

TG:

Right.

MBS:

So thank you so much, Tim, for being here today and joining me on Core Conversations, a CoreLogic podcast.

TG:

It’s been a pleasure. Thank you.

MBS:

All right. So for more information on the property market and the housing economy, please visit us at corelogic.com/intelligence. 

© 2021 CoreLogic, Inc. , All rights reserved.

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