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Local Veterans Document Experiences for National History Project

By Randy Economy


For many people, Veterans Day is a time set aside to honor U.S. military members and their contributions to our country.  For Dr. Elijah Levy, meeting with veterans and learning about their military service is a weekly occurrence.  For the past 13 years, Dr. Levy has been working to preserve the military experiences of World War II, Korean War, Vietnam, Persian Gulf, and Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans as part of the Veterans History Project (VHP) at the La Mirada Activity Center.

VHP was created by Congress in 2000 as part of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.  The project’s mission is to collect, preserve and share the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may learn about our country’s military history directly from those involved.  Photographs, manuscripts and other documents are also collected for preservation through the project.

Every Wednesday morning at 9 a.m., Levy and veterans from La Mirada and surrounding cities gather on the second floor of the Activity Center to record their military experiences as part of this national effort.  In addition to sending the recordings to the Library of Congress, veterans can make additional copies to keep and share with their family members.

This past Wednesday, Levy was documenting the experiences of La Mirada resident Larry Torres, who served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War.  Torres read from his written memoir, which he completed as part of the project, detailing his experiences serving at the U.S. Air Base in Bitburg, Germany during the war, while Levy filmed and took notes.

Torres learned of the project from a fellow resident while working as a volunteer at the SeniorNet Computer lab, also located within the Activity Center.

“It was an opportunity for me to teach my grandchildren and great-grandchildren about my life experiences, and preserve it as part of our family history,” said Torres.

Levy says that this project is important because most our veterans have not had the opportunity to properly document their experiences and are getting older.

“We want our children and grandchildren to know about their parents and grandparents involvement in these important historical events,” said Levy.  “Rather than just reading about it in a text book, future generations will be able to learn about these events from their family members who actually lived it.”

The project’s main focus is to record veteran’s military experiences, and also provides a way to stay connected with each other and develop new friendships.

La Mirada resident Larry McCollum served in the Army for 10 years as a Master Sergeant and is a regular at the Veterans History Project.

“We served all throughout the world, in different wars, and in different branches of the military,” McCollum says of veterans.  “So if you ask someone what the war was like, you’re going to get vastly different responses.  That’s why we enjoy being part of this group and come back to hear other veterans record their experiences.”

“There’s never an end to what we can learn from each other,” said VHP member Howie Beach.  Beach, a La Mirada resident since 1955, recorded his experiences gained during 11 months of combat in World War II and continues to attend the meetings.  “We bonded with each other and found camaraderie through the program,” he added.

The Veterans History Project meets every Wednesday from 9 to 11 a.m. on the second floor of the La Mirada Activity Center, 13810 La Mirada Blvd.  For more information, call (562) 902-3160 or visit the group’s website at www.because-we-were-there.com

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