Matanzas High School senior David Martin, right, records World War II veteran Charles Valorose as he describes his wartime experiences.
‘These people fought for our freedoms’
Telling their stories: Students help capture Flagler’s 13,000 veterans on video
By Shaun Ryan
Sunday, April 24, 2016
Charles Valorose downplays his role when he speaks of his service during World War II. He’s quick to point out the contributions of others. But to the roomful of people recording his story, the recollections of this 98-year-old veteran of the U.S. Army are priceless. That’s because, as a member of a rapidly disappearing generation, Valorose possesses an increasingly rare, personal glimpse of history.
And while the accounts of wartime generals and policy-makers are well documented, the same cannot be said about most ordinary veterans.
“All the World War I guys are gone now; those stories are lost forever,” said Larry Rekart, treasurer for Disabled American Veterans Chapter 86. “How many more stories are there that, because these people didn’t get the notoriety of being a leader of men or whatever, their stories aren’t told?”
Rekart isn’t the first person to ask that question. It lies at the heart of the Library of Congress’s Veterans History Project , which preserves the recollections of American wartime veterans.
It’s also a question being addressed on the local level with a similar initiative.
There are differences between the two projects, aside from geographic scope. The Library of Congress uses the full spectrum of media to tell its stories, while Flagler County chroniclers are relying exclusively on video.
More importantly, the aim of Flagler County’s project is not limited to wartime. Organizers want to record the stories of all of the county’s veterans, including those who served during peacetime. It’s no small task. Officially, there are more than 13,000 veterans living in the county. But Rekart estimates there may be as many as 15,000. Some slip through the cracks, he notes, particularly reservists.
Meeting the goal will require time — so much so that Rekart admits, “I don’t think I’ll be here at the end of it.”
It will also require people willing to see it through.
Though the local DAV chapter initiated the project, it is not doing this alone. It has formed a key partnership with a group of local students, who bring to it their expertise with the latest technology and a youthful enthusiasm for the subject.
If successful, Rekart hopes other counties will want to do their own, similar projects.
The origins of this initiative go back to Veterans Day 2015.
Rekart wanted to record the story of Dr. Robert Stanton, who spoke at the Flagler Beach observance. Due to a technical glitch, however, the speech was not recorded. Any chance that his account could be preserved afterward ended with Stanton’s death in January.
Local DAV members quickly saw the value in getting these stories recorded on video, posting them on the chapter’s website, and storing them with either the local historical society or the Flagler County Library.
But there was a drawback: None of the members had experience with the necessary technology.
Then, someone said, “Our grandkids could probably do that.”
So Rekart sought out members of a generation more in tune with today’s technology: He went to Matanzas High School.
He recalled that the school’s Junior ROTC had presented the colors at the same Veterans Day observance where Stanton spoke. So he contacted the instructor, 1st Sgt. Troy Caraballo, who in turn referred him to television production teacher Tracey Hicks.
She invited Rekart to speak to her class.
“We sat down in a room, and I told them basically the story of Dr. Stanton and what we wanted to do,” said Rekart. “They thought about it for a little bit and said, ‘Yeah, we can do that.’”
The students told him how they could record the veterans and incorporate relevant images or footage of places where the veterans served.
“You know, I was flabbergasted,” Rekart admitted. “I don’t know how to do any of that.”
The current class would participate in the initial interviews. The project would be ongoing, with subsequent classes also taking a part.
A CHANCE TO LEARN
The next challenge is finding the veterans. Rekart said he’s hoping to partner with other veterans organizations in Flagler County to make those connections.
The DAV effort has also gotten support from Caraballo and Major Thomas Hall, who are helping to get JROTC members involved. Interested cadets will conduct the interviews while television production students will capture them on video.
Tyler Villines, a cadet captain with the Matanzas JROTC who has wanted to join the military since childhood, was immediately drawn to the project.
“I’m learning more about what veterans did for our country and their service and things like that,” he said, calling the project a “good experience.”
In mid April, the group gathered for a trial run. That’s when they sat down with Valorose, who told them about his service in Italy and how his expected deployment to the South Pacific in 1945 was cut short by the surrender of Japan.
A week later, the group met with Bruce Winters, who retired after 30 years with the U.S. Navy where he was a master chief. Here was a very different story, one with the Vietnam War at its center.
The veterans were asked not just about their years of service, but also what happened afterwards: how they made use of the G.I. Bill, their experiences with the Veterans Administration and the reception they got upon returning to the States. David Martin, a Matanzas senior who operated one of the cameras during both interviews, pointed out the value in meeting these veterans and learning from them.
“I think it makes you reflect a lot more on the things you do,” he said, adding, “It makes you take a second to look and say, ‘These people fought for our freedoms, and I’m not going to squander any opportunities.’”