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David Freeze column: Veterans’ stories worth preserving

Over the last few years, I have had the distinct pleasure of interviewing quite a few remarkable veterans from World War ll. What I have found is that none of them think they are remarkable, but in every case I am amazed when they tell me their stories. Their group has been coined as “The Greatest Generation” for all the hardships that they endured while preserving our freedom. Many didn’t make it home, but the ones that did deserve to be remembered for their ongoing gift of freedom to all Americans.

With that in mind, several conversations have occurred over the past few months about how to go about getting these older veterans, many who are now 90 years of age and older, in front of a camera so that others can learn about their experiences while in service. Two of my favorite venues for remarkable stories about the amazing exploits of these veterans are the Rowan County Airport and the Price of Freedom Museum. I recently spent parts of three days at the airport covering events that surrounded the layover of a World War ll B-17 bomber. Airport Manager Thad Howell and I shared thoughts about getting some of these veterans to sit down and be interviewed on camera, preserving their exploits in a lasting manner that others may share for years to come.

I talked with Bob Mault, founder of the Price of Freedom Museum, about the possibility of setting up an area dedicated to getting those interviews. At the time, Bob was thinking much the same thing, but had his plate full with an upcoming open house and other projects. While the idea seemed possible, he needed to get some other things completed at the museum. Mault recently lost his able assistant, Frank Albright, when he passed away unexpectedly.

If you haven’t visited the museum, or if you haven’t visited it lately, there are lots of displays and activities going on. Various organizations are helping as the former Patterson School is transformed into a place that memories are rekindled and new ones are made.

On New Year’s morning, Mault awoke with a new goal. He wanted to get the video recording project rolling. Mault realized that he had just lost his friend Albright, and several classmates from school. “This project is something the Lord has laid on my heart now, and we need to take the steps to make it happen. Within just a few years, World War ll veterans will be hard to find,” he said.

As of today, video recording is on the top of the project list at the Price of Freedom Museum. Already, over 5,000 kids are visiting annually from the Rowan County school system. Two other counties are interested in sending students. But Mault said, “Our mission is to honor the veterans, and we want to keep going with that. Also, it will be good for them and others who visit the museum to hear the actual words of those who fought our country’s battles.”

Plans are to focus on the older veterans first, then move through the later wars and build a video archive. The museum plans to show the veteran videos in each of the specific military rooms. Mault hopes to show Army veterans speaking in the Army Room, Navy veterans in the Navy Room and so on. Eventually, the school auditorium will be used to showcase these videos on a wide screen similar to way movies were shown in the school years ago.

The museum has so far been fortunate enough to operate on donations and volunteer work, and the video archive can hopefully operate the same way. An immediate need to get this program rolling is for someone who has both video equipment and time available to operate it. Mault plans to set up a studio in the museum, and invite veterans to come tell their story at specific times during the week. Currently, he hopes to film the veterans on Mondays and Fridays at times that are not used for other activities and programs.

Personally, I have met so many heroes that I won’t attempt to name them. For me, it is an amazing experience to hear how most of the crew baled out of a B-17 bomber, then the pilot realized that he had a chance to bring the airplane home, and did so with three crewmen that had yet to bale out. Or about the time that for days on end, an infantry soldier fought in cold conditions similar to what we have just experienced, without ever getting a chance to be inside and warm.

These men and women who went to war for America were willing to give their lives for their country, and so many of did just that. I hope we can capture the memories of many of them who made it back. Call Bob Mault at 704-857-7474 during the day or 704-857-2095 in the evenings.

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