Veterans record their story in their own words
State program lets veterans recount their military experiences on video for future generations
September 05, 2009
West Central Missouri veterans visited The Sedalia Democrat on Wednesday and Thursday to give their families and future generations the gift of their story.
Second round planned for videotaping vets¹ stories
Videotaping of military veterans' stories was so successful in Springfield last week that organizers plan to return in late September or early October for more, officials said.
Randy Murray and his staff from Patriot Productions in the St. Louis area, videotaped one-on-one interviews Aug. 20-21 at The Library Center with 48 vets for Missouri Veteran Stories.
He put out a call for veterans from all branches and all conflicts. Murray attracted mainly World War II veterans after making a special appeal for help to preserve their stories.
The project began in 2005 as a way to honor Missouri's military veterans and to create an oral and video history. This year's $600,000 budget was approved by Missouri lawmakers.
More than 1,000 veterans' stories are already online at the project Web site, www.missouriveteranstories.org. Videos are searchable by name, keyword, service branch, date of birth, years of service or city or county of residence.
The interviews are edited to five- to eight-minute stories and posted on www. missouriveteranstories.org. The stories can also be viewed at a kiosk in the Missouri Capitol.
A 30-minute recap of video highlights of veterans' stories is available for school classes, civic groups and libraries.
The project also partners with Emerson Electric in St. Louis on a traveling display -- a semi-truck trailer retrofitted with videotaping equipment and a Jumbotron that can broadcast the veterans' stories to a large crowd.
The Hometown Heroes trailer is available for special events and holidays across the state with corporate or private underwriting. Estimated cost per visit is $10,000.
One vet, retired Air Force Capt. Tom G. Laster, was a B-26 bomber pilot who flew 52 bombing missions in Europe from 1944 to 1945. Laster was with the 9th Air Force 322nd Group 451st Squadron.
Laster told about flying missions with a small dog named Weenie tucked inside his jacket. After the seventh bombing flight with his dog, he was told not to fly with the pet anymore because if he were shot down, the force of his parachute straps would kill the dog.
Laster reluctantly complied. On Laster's eighth mission and without his dog, Laster was shot down over Belgium. He landed the craft, belly down, on a newly plowed dirt runway, Laster said. He and the dog were later reunited.
Larry Foss was a lance corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War from 1968 to 1970.
As an infantryman, he and fellow Marines conducted mine sweeps, patrols and set up machine-gun nests in the Da Nang area.
Foss said he was proud to join others in telling their stories, "to let people know about the different wars. Ours was a lot of jungle fighting, rice paddies and mountainous outposts."
The Foss and Laster stories will be added to the videotaped stories online now.
Veterans or their families can nominate a veteran for Murray's next visit by calling him at Patriot Productions toll-free at 800-905-1536, or by going online, www.missouriveteranstories.org and clicking "nominate a veteran."
Vets also get a free DVD of the interview, and the interviews taped last week should be online by mid-September, Murray said. There is no fee for veterans or their families to participate.
Veterans' stories are being captured other ways.
Congress established the Veterans History Project in October 2000, which includes interviews with World War II veterans and others on the home front. The Library of Congress catalogs the video interviews in its American Folklife Center.
Locally, Missouri State University, the Air and Military Museum of the Ozarks and other groups have recorded veterans on video, said Wayne Warner, an interviewer with the Veterans History Project of the Air and Military Museum of the Ozarks.
A copy of the video is given to the veteran, and a copy remains in the museum library or other facilities for researchers.
Veterans asked to share war stories
Online library will include military tales accessible to everyone .
The stories of the heroes are finally being captured, one by one.
Manuel Freeman, a U.S. Army veteran of World War II, drove a Sherman tank into Normandy on D-Day. As Germans hid behind French farm hedgerows to fire on American troops, his tank unit mowed down the barriers and took out the menace.
Eldon Warren of Polk served in Europe in World War II and operated the first radar as an air traffic controller on an emergency airfield in France.
Their stories and others from veterans across the Ozarks will soon be added to an online library accessible to everyone.
They are among the veterans scheduled to be interviewed Friday in Springfield as part of the Missouri Veteran Stories project. But the organizers are looking for more Ozarks vets willing to share something they feel is significant about their military service.
The interviews will be conducted from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday at The Library Center, 4653 S. Campbell Ave.
The project began in 2005 as a way to honor Missouri's military veterans and to create an oral and video history.
More than 1,000 veterans' stories are already online at the project Web site, www.missouri veteranstories.org. Videos are searchable by name , keyword, service branch, date of birth, years of service or city or county of residence.
Friday will be the first time the project staff has come to collect stories from Springfield-area vets since it began the work in 2005.
Randy and Danielle Murray with Patriot Productions, a St. Louis firm, and interviewer Steve Frazier are making appointments with veterans to sit for 30-minute, one-on-one interviews on Friday about their role in the service. Interviews will be edited to five or eight minutes for the online project.
Missouri has 500,000 living military veterans, Murray said, many in the Ozarks. Looking to Friday, he said, "I would love to be swamped."
He hopes World War II and Korean conflict veterans will make special effort to tell their stories. As those veterans age, he worries their families and the country will lose their stories.
Ozarks veterans whose stories are online now include Betty and Birl Stewart, formerly of Branson, Bob Dyer of Springfield and Taylor Hopkins of Monett.
"We are in a race against time," Murray said. "Our pure goal is to do all we can to not leave their stories behind."
He's getting a lot of help from family members.
"Their kids and grandkids really get involved in ... stressing the importance of it," Murray added. "They listen to their kids and grandkids."
Groups like the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion have also helped him find veteran stories.
"It's amazing how the older guys will push the younger guys into doing this," Murray said. "The younger guys will say, 'No, no, no, this is about you,' But the older guys want these younger guys interviewed. That's the selflessness of that older generation and service people, in general."
Freeman didn't require much coaxing to talk about his service as a technical sergeant in the U.S. Army. The Springfield retiree was part of the 70th Tank Battalion, attached to the 4th Infantry Division in World War II.
"Wherever they needed us, that's where they sent us," whether it was mowing down hedgerows to chase off German shooters, or blocking a road to protect the village of Sainte-Marie-du-Mont from German invaders.
"My children kept asking me to write it, so I finally sat down and and made an outline," Freeman said.
Today, he has a 33-page binder about his role in world history.
"I'm afraid our society is forgetting what freedom has cost us through the ages, and our younger generation doesn't realize what it has cost us," Freeman said. "And I'm not just talking about World War II. I'm talking World War I, the Revolutionary War and the Civil War . All of these have something to do with the freedom we enjoy."
Some Missouri veteran stories are brief recollections of a comrade's heroic act, a humorous moment or an intense battle.
They don't have to be profound, Murray said. Some talk about the food, their favorite people . "Simple things are the most interesting to people."
Yet many vets have dramatic tales, too. Murray recently interviewed and posted the online interview of St. Charles resident Frank Huelskoetter, who talks about surviving four POW camps in Germany during World War II.
Murray said he regrets not capturing his own father's World War II stories, though he grew up hearing them.
"That was lost, and our sons never got the chance to meet him," Murray said. "That's the real loss to me. They didn't get to hear him talk about it in that humble way. They're so low-key about it. ... It's reflective of that generation. For the most part that's what they did: Came back from the war, put their noses to the grindstone and built this country."
Columbia Daily Tribune
Randy Murray is in a race against time.
Murray’s company, Patriot Productions, has videotaped the stories of some 3,000 Missouri veterans for the Missouri Veterans Story Program through funding from the General Assembly. The goal of the program, a project of the lieutenant governor’s office, is to record and preserve the stories of veterans for posterity.
Murray, who will be in Columbia on Friday and Saturday to tape veterans’ stories at VFW Post 280 at 1509 Ashley St., said there are more than 500,000 military veterans in Missouri.
“Each day, more of our military veterans pass away — and their stories go with them,” Murray said.
To set up an interview, those interested can call (800) 905-1536 or go online to www.missouriveteranstories.com. Interviews last from 20 to 30 minutes and are edited into five- to seven-minute digital stories. Each veteran receives a free copy of the DVD. As of this morning, several slots were still available for the Columbia tapings.
World War II veterans were the initial target audience for the program, but the project is not limited to that era.
“That’s our primary target, but any veteran who wants to can be interviewed,” Ashland Army veteran Dewey Riehn said.
There is no cost to veterans or their families. Riehn, the legislative coordinator for the VFW Department of Missouri, is a member of Post 280. Murray credits Riehn’s support with keeping the project running.
“He is someone who has worked hard for this program,” Murray said. “He’s been a great advocate.”
Riehn’s personal story is evidence that each veteran’s wartime account is unique. Interviewed by the program two years ago, he retired in 1976 after a 20-year military career, most of it spent in the Army’s counter-intelligence department. In other words, he was a spy.
“Some people call it that,” Riehn, 71, recalled, noting that his children often asked, “ ‘Dad, are you going to be doing any spying today?’ ”
Riehn was officially documented as a civilian, even though he was on military duty. His family was with him from 1970 to 1975 when he was living in Munich, Germany.
“We were there during the ’72 Olympics when the Israelis got killed,” Riehn said, recalling the notorious hostage-taking and terrorist attack that marred the Olympics.
After retiring from the military, Riehn worked as a criminal investigator for the state of Missouri and later served as statewide director of child abuse investigations.
Riehn’s video is available on the program’s database, which allows searches by keyword, service branch or date. The entire database is available through the Web site and through touch-screen consoles at the Missouri Capitol. Also, Emerson Electric of St. Louis donated money for a van with six computer stations and a Jumbotron video screen for use in presentations to schools and civic groups.
One sign that the project has broad support is that it avoided Gov. Jay Nixon’s budget ax. The $300,000 annual funding has actually been bumped to $600,000 for the coming year.
The state legislature appropriated $1 million in 2005 to launch the project, first housed at the Missouri Veterans Commission and moving under the state’s purview the next year.
The project halted taping in December because the money ran out, and there are already 1,000 Missouri veterans on the waiting list.
Reach Jodie Jackson Jr. at 573-815-1713 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friday, August 7, 2009
Whether in peacetime or war, on the battlefield, aboard ship, in kitchens or shops, the people who serve in the military have stories to tell about the experiences.
Some are exciting -- too exciting, in some cases. Some are mundane. But one thing the Missouri Veteran Stories interview team insists on is that every veteran's stories are valuable, interesting and worth recording for posterity.
Mike Butler, Steve Frazier and Andy Turner were in Slater Thursday, Aug. 6, and Friday, Aug. 7, to capture on video as many veterans' stories as they could, and local project coordinator Charlie Guthrie had more than 40 area veterans signed up to participate in the interviews.
The project, spearheaded by Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and financed by the state, is in its fourth year, according to Butler. More than 1,000 veterans have been interviewed so far, but with more than one-half million veterans in the state, "we've got a lot of work to do," he said.
Butler said recording the stories is a humbling experience, but what amazes him continually is how humble veterans are about telling their stories.
"They say, 'I don't have any stories. I just did this as a favor to someone.' You get them in the interview and they have great stories to tell," Butler said. "Maybe it's not a harrowing combat mission, but people want to know what the food was like, how cold it was or what goes on in an aircraft carrier."
And it means even more to people when they hear stories from people they know -- relatives or people they've passed in the street every day.
"This makes the service and the sacrifice more real," he said. "The purpose is to honor the veterans and their families and to help educate us. I like to think of it as something that gives us a sense of pride in our community."
Frazier, the interviewer on the team, works to put veterans at ease, allowing them to tell whatever stories they feel comfortable telling during the eight- to 15-minute sessions. But when anyone is hesitant to speak, he asks questions, often based on information provided by the veteran in brief profiles filed out before the interview.
But he ends every session with the same question: "How do you feel about having served your country?" Every veteran who interviewed Thursday morning expressed, without hesitation, pride in their service.
The stories they told covered a wide range -- from Jim Latimer's story about taking his pet racoon to Chicago when he was stationed there just after the Korean war to Jack Sandwith's frightening description of hitting the wrong beach during the D-Day invasion.
Some went into more detail than others.
Retired Admiral Stanton Thompson, clearly a practiced public speaker, told about the lessons in leadership he learned as a young ensign from a salty master chief who took him to an ammunition locker "wood shed" on more than one occasion.
Bill Kearns, a WWII veteran who fought in Europe, admitted he left a lot out of his interview.
"Some things you just don't tell. They're just a little bit too horrible," Kearns said. "They're so bad people wouldn't believe them anyhow. You can't imagine some of the things that do happen."
All the veterans who participated Thursday said they were glad to have the opportunity to talk about their experiences, even if some things were difficult to speak about.
"I think it's a great thing. Charlie's to be commended for promoting it and putting this on," Kearns said. "It's a lot of work. It'll give Slater a little something to be remembered about."
Latimer said he didn't know what anyone would learn from his interview, but Guthrie's wife, Brenda, had persuaded him to participate.
"She explained it would help other people down the line," he said.
Unlike the others, Sandwith has talked publicly about his service, telling his stories at schools and colleges. Participating in the project came more naturally to him.
"I don't want the kids to forget about it," he said.
Sandwith's connections to schools is something Butler would like to see develop for the whole program, possibly collaborating with students to find veterans and do interviews.
Butler said the project will continue indefinitely, although like quite a few state programs, there was a bit of a scare while the budget was being negotiated by the legislature.
He feels a sense of urgency in continuing the project, noting that nearly 2,000 veterans die every day, and every death may mean stories -- pieces of history and heritage -- are lost forever.
"I'd give anything if this program was around when my dad was here," Guthrie said.
Butler is expecting to return to Slater for the annual Fall Festival Sept. 18 and 19 with a separate but related veterans project, Hometown Heroes.
The project also captures veterans stories and has a 53-foot trailer that houses an interactive theater with 15-by-nine-foot screen that emerges from the top of the vehicle, Butler said.
If all goes well, interviews conducted this week will be available for viewing by then, Butler said.
Contact Eric Crump at email@example.com
State project captures memories of veterans
Missouri Veteran Stories videotapes interviews and posts them online.
Kathleen O'Dell News-Leader May 25, 2009
Three quick shots. A sharp pain.
U.S. Marine fighter pilot Bill Cantrell knew Japanese gunners on the ground had found their target.
A bullet ripped a hole in his canopy, his life jacket and entered his side two inches above his heart.
"War," Cantrell recalls 54 years later, "can be a game of inches."
Cantrell's tale of near-disaster and his flight to safety is only one of many in his memoir, "Friends, Dear Friends and Heroes."
Each Memorial Day, Cantrell said, "I think of the friends that I lost, many of them very dear friends; people with whom I had close ties. And I'm sorry they didn't survive the war, too."
The surviving pilots of Cantrell's squadron have a reunion every year.
"There are 12 of us left," said Cantrell, 88. "The reunion is always a tender happening."
Missouri's 500,000 living military veterans have a chance to preserve their stories, as well.
A state project, Missouri Veteran Stories, wants to capture their tales in videotaped interviews that anyone can watch. Cantrell would like his story to be among them.
More than 1,000 veterans' stories are already online at the project Web site, www.missourivet eranstories.com. The site also includes more than 200 independently produced videos of Missouri National Guard veterans.
Among the Missouri Veteran Stories are the compelling, humorous and sometimes tearful glimpses of war from Betty and Birl Stewart, formerly of Branson, Bob Dyer of Springfield, and Taylor Hopkins of Monett. All were taped at the Missouri Veterans Home in Mount Vernon, where they live now.
The late John Playter, who lived in the veterans home, describes surviving the Bataan Death March in 1942 in the Philippines.
In a halting voice, he concludes, "... it was a pretty desperate situation."
The brief videos can also be seen through a touch-screen console in the state Capitol and have been added to Missouri's and the National Archives.
The project began in 2005 as a way to honor Missouri's military veterans -- men and women, from all wars and conflicts -- and to create an oral and video history.Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder is most concerned about the aging World War II and Korean War veterans.
"The greatest generation is passing away," taking their stories with them, said Kinder, whose office directs the project.
"It is just vitally important to create a video archive of these priceless heroes who served their country for the cause of freedom, and gave so much."
By capturing their stories and making them available to download from any computer, Kinder said, "These will always be with us."
They are the stories of Army Cpl. Birl Stewart, with the AAA Battalion, who tells of arriving at Normandy, France, to find the U.S. paratroopers who had been shot dead on their descent.
Tearfully, Stewart describes how he was among the soldiers who had to cut down the paratroopers from the trees where they were entangled.
They are the stories of U.S. Navy Seaman Taylor Hopkins, of Monett, whose ship transported a German submarine crew from Trinidad to the United States.
The German POWs lived in the ship's hold during the journey and were served three meals a day.
"These sailors sang 'God Bless America' all the way back to the United States. They didn't know what the words meant or how to say the words ... but they sang it all the way back to the United States."
The Missouri General Assembly appropriated $1 million in 2005 to launch the project, first housed at the Missouri Veterans Commission, moving under the state's purview the next year.
The legislature gave it $300,000 each year since then, and bumped the funding to $600,000 for the upcoming year, said Jerry Dowell, deputy lieutenant governor.
The money will cover the video production of about 550 veterans' stories this year by Patriot Productions, of Chesterfield, and Web site upkeep, Dowell said.
There is no cost to veterans or families.
The project halted taping in December because the money ran out, Dowell said, and there are already 1,000 Missouri veterans on the waiting list.
The project accepts donations (see the Web site) to fund more tapings, he said.
To be most cost-effective, the production crew usually does 20 or more pre-arranged interviews in one city or central location, Dowell said. They've gone to veterans homes and hospitals across the state, and collected about 70 veterans' stories in two different visits to the Missouri Veterans Home in Mount Vernon, said Lisa Poole, a recreation therapist there.
She occasionally dropped in on the filming, she said, "but I got kind of emotional and had to step out.
"Some of them got emotional," Poole said. "For some, it brings back memories. Some love to talk about it."
The video crew interviews each veteran, then edits the 15- to-20-minute sessions to a five- to-seven-minute digital story.
Each veteran receives a free copy of the DVD and the story is then added to the online and archived library.
Videos are searchable by name or keyword, or service branch, date of birth, years of service or city or county of residence.
Ozarks veterans are underrepresented in the collection so far, save for the 81 stories from Lawrence County -- many of those from the Missouri Veterans Home -- and about 30 each from Phelps and Benton counties.
Dowell said the crew plans to come to Springfield when enough participants sign up.
Individual veterans or their families can volunteer for the project using an online form.
Dowell said staff is looking into ways that families can also submit their own DVDs with veterans' stories, Dowell said. However, the project lacks the funds to transfer submitted videotapes to digital form, he said.
"My father was a World War II flight surgeon in China with the Flying Tigers from 1943 to 1945," Kinder said. "We lost him nine years ago. We have some audio of him talking about wartime experiences, but no video.
"This is a subject very dear to my heart," Kinder said.
Veterans tell their stories
By Elizabeth Perry
Bill Grimm sat down with 10-year-old grandson Clay Murray on Veterans Day and told him what it was like serving in the Army.
Grimm, now 67, served from 1959 to 1962. He didn't see major combat in a global hot spot. In fact, he was a mechanic in frigid Goose Bay in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
"I actually learned that I didn't know it was that cold where he went," Clay Murray said.
Grimm's son-in-law, Randy Murray, started the Missouri Veteran Stories project three years ago. Clay is his son.
Grimm was one of 22 veterans who sat down at the St. Paul Parish Center attached to St. Paul Catholic Church and School. Clay Murray is a fifth-grader at St. Paul Catholic School.
Danielle Murray, Grimm's daughter, said two teachers who were also veterans, Kelly Kaiman and Christy Swabota, took part in the program.
Randy Murray said Swabota's third-grade class sat in while she spoke to the cameras, and their interest brought tears to the teacher's eyes.
Of the veterans who told their stories, 14 were interviewed by St. Paul students, Randy Murray said.
Grimm said he wouldn't have chosen to tell his story had his daughter and son-in-law not asked him to do so.
"I'm not good in front of people, but this wasn't bad," Grimm said.
Grimm's military experience didn't involve battles or drama. But it was a fascinating snapshot of his life in Newfoundland, on a base without roads where all the supplies arrived by air or sea.
President John F. Kennedy's airplane refueled at Grimm's base, and he briefly met the president.
"That's my dad, and I never heard that story before," Danielle Murray said.
The Missouri Veteran Stories project, sponsored by the state, was started after Randy Murray, his partner Mike Butler and several veterans' groups approached Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder. The project has collected more than 600 stories. The videos are available online and through touch-screen consoles in the Missouri Capitol. Randy Murray said he was inspired to record veterans' stories because of his own father.
"I was raised at the knee of a veteran, and I felt like my sons were not getting to have the same experience I had," Randy Murray said.
Randy Murray's father died before he got a chance to interview him about his wartime experiences.
Interviewer Steve Frazier, who has worked in film and video production for 25 years, said the project ranks among his best experiences.
Frazier said some of the interviews get emotional, and at that point he becomes less of an interviewer than a caregiver.
"Literally, you flip a switch and they break," videographer Frank McKeown said.
McKeown said the Vietnam veterans are often the worse off of anyone they see. "I don't think they've had the social services they've needed," McKeown said.
That lack of support from the government, which didn't even categorize the conflict as a war, and the response from the public back home has left many Vietnam-era vets isolated, McKeown said.
Some of the vets have not told anyone the stories they recall for McKeown and Frazier, not even their wives or children.
"At least them getting to tell their story is a way to honor what they went through," McKeown said.
Visit www.MissouriVeteranStories.org to view videos of veterans telling their stories or to nominate a veteran to tell his or her story.
Slater veterans thank Kinder, Aull for support of video stories project
Thursday, January 29, 2009
"As more of our veterans pass away each day, their stories go with them, so that is why we need to keep this program going," Guthrie said. "Missouri Veteran Stories is open to all men and women currently residing in Missouri, who have served in any branch of the United States Military."
The videos are five to seven minutes long and are produced from interviews and conversations with each veteran, Guthrie said.
The archive of video stories is available through the project's Web site and through touch screen consoles in the State Capitol and elsewhere, according to Guthrie.
"We saw this console when we were at the Capitol, and it is huge, quite something to see," Guthrie said.
Guthrie noted that 17 veterans from Saline County have already contributed to the collection.
The most recent interview sessions took place in Slater in December.
"I hope that we can get many more veterans to share their stories," Guthrie said. "This is really a fine program. It lets veterans share their stories and illustrates their service and sacrifice they have made."
Saline County veterans who have contributed so far include
--Charles Berlekamp, Air Force, Korea
--Tom Boehner, Army, Vietnam
--Travis Bullington, Army, World War II
--Robert Drummond, Army Air Corps, World War II
--Wally N. George, Navy, Vietnam
--John Patrick George, Navy, Service: 1970 to 1990
--C.W. Caldwell Giger, Air Force, World War II
--Wellington Joseph Gorham Sr., Air Force, Vietnam
--Wellington Joseph Gorham Jr., Navy, Iraq I
--Charles Guthrie, Navy, Vietnam
--Orville Hinck, Army, Korea
--Harold Jackson, Army, World War II
--William S. Lewellen Jr., Army, Vietnam
--Harry Lightfoot, Army, Vietnam
--John T. Markovich, Navy, Vietnam
--Kenneth M. Rogers, Marines, Vietnam
--Paul Vaillancourt, Army, Vietnam
--Keith A. Wright, Marines, Service: 1975 to 1979.
Contact Eric Crump at
Traveling tribute focuses attention on hometown veterans
By Michelle Brooks