FOR MORE THAN FOUR DECADES, Edmond Philip DiGiannantonio kept a closet full of memories in his Reston, Va., home—vintage World War II recordings never heard by the public. The so-called V-Discs—the V was for victory—had been made only for American servicemen and -women overseas and featured such front-line performers as Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong. Because many were made during the 27-month period (1942-44) when a royalties dispute had prompted a nationwide commercial recording ban, they represented the only music put on record during that period.

DiGiannantonio, the officer in charge of the Navy's V-Disc program, produced 500 of the estimated 905 recordings himself. Artists worked gratis, and "we would record in studios, hospitals, ships, nightclubs, even hotel ballrooms," he says. Though most of the masters were destroyed in 1949 to prevent under-the-table sales, DiGiannantonio saved 600 virgin pressings.

Now 73, DiGiannantonio—"Digi" to friends—has gotten permission from both the military and the musicians' unions to release the recordings. Proceeds from the 53-song anthology (available by mail from the V-Disc Corp. of Springfield, Va.) will be shared by the surviving artists, their record companies and unions and DiGiannantonio.

According to DiGiannantonio, a Milford, Mass., native who once studied classical violin, 1940s-era music lovers will discover a trove of rarities, including first recordings of Sinatra's "Nancy" and Dinah Shore's "You'll Never Know." Says DiGiannantonio happily: "I want the people of that generation to hear the music again and the current generation to hear some great stuff."