Local veterans share their stories (UPDATE 6:35 a.m. Aug. 18)
UPDATE 4:45 p.m. Monday, Aug. 17
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