ILWACO — “When you go (into battle for the first time) you’re very naive. You train as if you’re going, but when you get there it’s a whole different ballgame,” explained U.S. Army veteran Forrest Desperate during a recent interview with Ilwaco High School AP U.S. History student Noah Carper. Desperate is one of six local veterans being interviewed for the class contribution to the Library of Congress Veterans History Project.
Collect and preserve
According to its website (bit.ly/2cWDw0P), the project was created by Congress in 2000, and strives to collect, preserve and make accessible the personal accounts of U.S. war veterans, “so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war.” To date there are more than 99,000 veterans cataloged on the site.
Randy Bloom, who teaches advanced placement U.S. history at IHS, became interested in the project after attending a teaching conference in Louisville, Kentucky last summer. Bloom broke the class of 12 into pairs, with each team interviewing and video recording one of six local veterans. Some vets have come by way of people Bloom knows personally, while others are relatives or acquaintances of students in the class.
With one student manning the video camera on their smart phone and the other doing the interviewing, each veteran is asked a set of 45 basic questions that range from their personal history, military service, returning home and reflections on being in the military.
“I’m trying to get a variety of people who have served,” said Bloom. “That way, the students can see how war has changed and how it’s stayed the same.”
Bloom said the dictation of the interviews will take a few weeks, but when finished, the students will turn over their work to the Library of Congress.
“We’re going to send them to the Library of Congress so their stories will be on permanent record,” Bloom said. “They get the opportunity to be published authors and experience what the life of a veteran was and appreciate what their service was to our country. They get to see and hear these people talk about their stories.”
On the record
Before sitting down to interview Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran Eric Henrikson, IHS junior Faith Mathison admitted she had some butterflies.
“I was pretty nervous before the interview. I’d never interviewed someone before, so that was a new experience,” she said. “I learned a lot, and he had some really great stories.”
She said, for example, that Henrikson told of seeing a mansion of Saddam Hussein’s made of marble.
“He talked about how horrible war was. I’ve heard of that in books but hearing from an actual person makes it a lot more real and believable,” Mathison said.
She said he also imparted some wisdom on the class.
“He said to treasure every moment because he’s seen so much life lost. The little conflicts in life don’t matter. It’s about caring about the people around you.”
From the front lines
As Carper’s interview with Desperate continued, the class learned more about his time serving during the first Gulf War. Desperate told of how he was at one point “close enough to Baghdad to feel the final bombs drop before the ceasefire.”
Desperate, who served in an elite airborne chemical operations unit, said he joined the Army for a few reasons.
“I chose the Army because my dad served in the Army. I wanted to do something my parents would be able to relate to,” but also added, “I was either going to have some structure or go the wrong direction. You’re the person that needs to push yourself. Other people can help, but if you don’t push from within, you’re not going anywhere. I think a lot of people need that kind of motivation.”
At one point Carper asked, “Did you ever serve on the front lines?”
“With chemical operations you’re either right with or right behind the infantry when they go across. The reason is that if they come across any chemical mines or agents, we can assess the problem.”
In the end, Desperate had positive things to say about his personal time in the service, and thinks back on that time fondly.
“I had the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had, or ever will have, during that time in my life,” he said. “You’re with people with like abilities and mindset, that are going through the same issues and problems that you’re going through.”