Robert May sat up straight in his chair and looked directly into the lens of the camera in front of him. The microphone clipped to his shirt was ready to record his every word.
“I’m 100 years old,” the WWII veteran said. “I’ve seen a lot of presidents.”
May, along with seven other war veterans, gathered at the Veteran Art Center in St. Petersburg on Tuesday morning to relive and record their military experiences for the National Archives in Washington D.C.
“This is real, raw information from those how have served in combat overseas,” said Mack Macksam, who runs the Center.
The storytelling opportunity was the idea of Empath Health’s Melissa Moré. She noticed that we were losing many veterans before they had a chance to tell their decades-old war stories for future generations to hear.
“The types of stories that we hear, there are so many wonderful heroes among us that otherwise would be lost. That oral tradition just isn’t as prevalent anymore.”
Stories like the ones Peter Garino shared really caught the attention of those in attendance.
“From Nazi Germany and Japan, the misguided idea that they were going to control the entire Pacific area, we had to root them out and get rid of that idea,” said the former pilot who served in the South Pacific from March 1943 to August 1945. “Some of these missions were pretty long, 6-7-8 hours”
Tears were shed during some of the questioning. It was too difficult to speak of the war experiences, even seven decades later.
“In combat you feel like your life is worth a nickel. You’ll either come back that morning or you don’t.,” said May. “Most of them in my war would do it again because, well, everyone supported it. We felt like we were getting rid of a monster.”
The stories all ended in a common thread: pride in the USA. The experience is designed to save the stories for future generations to hear so that students will be able to hear from the source what it was really like in battles they’ll read about in textbooks.
“I’ve heard veterans cry,” said More. “I’ve laughed with them.
“I really enjoy working with this program.”
The videos will reside in the Library of Congress.