My father was a veteran of World War II but I know precious little about his experience during that conflict—because I didn’t think to ask.
What I do know is pretty heady stuff. He spent parts of the war in England and eventually was swept into the preparations for D-Day. I know he stormed the beaches at Normandy, and I believe it was in the second wave. Most of the first wave had perished, and it wasn’t much easier for the second wave, but he mounted the bluffs only to struggle through the hedgerows.
Later, he took part in the liberation of Paris. He actually was driving a tank down the Champs d’Elyses in the parade of Allied armies rushing into the city after the Nazis had fled.
He lived in Paris for several months attached to an officer’s staff as a clerk. He was a whiz with shorthand (does anyone do that anymore?) and could type like the wind.
Then I’m assuming he itched for a return to the front lines, and ended up in the Battle of Bulge under General George Patton driving a tank. Later he was very hard of hearing in his older age because of the noise inside that tank. I have the same affliction today, but it’s because of the loud amplifiers of the rock bands I played in for more than 20 years.
I know these things not because he told me but because other people told me, like my mother and his siblings. Like many of the Greatest Generation, he didn’t like to talk about the war. So I let it be and never asked him.
In 1962, we went to see the movie The Longest Day, all about D-Day with some of the biggest movie stars of the day. I was thoroughly enjoying the movie until I looked over to see my father crying. In all my 11 years, I had never seen him cry. But still he didn’t talk.
Today, that’s one of my great regrets in life. Why didn’t I prod him a little more to find out exactly what he went through—what he experienced in that global conflict that shaped the world we’re living in almost 100 years later? If he had known I was interested, I’m sure he would have opened up. After all, it was just the way his generation operated—don’t talk about your exploits. Maybe it was a way to handle post-traumatic stress syndrome—ignore it and maybe it won’t happen.
And to top if off, I have tried to get my father’s official records from the Department of Defense, but was told that they were destroyed, along with millions of other records in a warehouse fire in Missouri in the 1970s. If you knew my father and how often he moved his family in the 1960s, this wouldn’t surprise you. So now I’ll never know.
This is one of the reasons I’ve tried in recent years to connect with some of the old-timers in gaming (before I become one myself). Now to be clear, I’m not comparing stories of the early days in the gaming industry with a World War II experience, but there is value to talking to those who lived through those years.
Too often these days, there is a disregard for the early days of gaming because of the mob influence, the lack of analytics, the sometimes predatory nature of casino gaming at the time, and the overall lack of formal education by those industry pioneers.
But those were the years when casino gaming found its chops. Slot machines were just amenities for the wives of the high rollers at the tables. There were no player’s clubs. All relationships with your good players were one-on-one. Casinos recognized the importance of giving the players a fighting chance to win.
No, there’s lots of wisdom and experience tied up in those old-timers, which could be used to reveal solutions to problems we’re facing today. But if you don’t ask, how will you know?
Every company and organization has someone who knows where the bodies are buried, understands the backstory, can offer guidance when you hit a rough patch. They might already be retired.
How did they connect with the players in the days before data analytics? What kind of treatment did they expect and how was it delivered?
I constantly hear from people that Vegas was better when the mob was in control. I don’t buy that one because the mob also broke someone’s kneecaps when they couldn’t pay up. But even those stories offer guidelines of how to conduct security training and collection techniques in a civilized (and legal!) manner.
So don’t let those stories and recollections go to waste. Talk to those old-timers and I think you’ll find out that they want to share their experiences. You’ll never know if you don’t ask.