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California man wants to interview WWII combat vets

Andrea Johnson/MDN Rishi Sharma, from Agoura Hills, Calif., travels the country and interviews combat veterans of World War II.

Rishi Sharma, from Agoura Hills, Calif., has a passion for World War II history and a profound reverence for everyday heroism of the Greatest Generation. So far he has interviewed 1,100 combat veterans in 47 states during the past four years. He came to Minot on Thursday to interview another hero, Lynn Aas of Minot, and said he would love to talk to other veterans while he is here if they contact him.

Sharma plans to leave today but said he would extend his stay in the state or come back if he gets a call from a veteran. Sharma can be reached on his cell phone 202-315-8743.

Sharma, 23, said he records his interviews with the veterans, asking each veteran to hold a picture of himself as a young man in uniform for the recording, and then transfers the recorded interview to DVDs and mails free copies to the veterans.

He also uploads some of the interviews, with the permission of the veterans, to his YouTube channel at Legends of WWII. There is also a website at www.heroesofthesecondworldwar.org.

Some of the interviews have thousands of views on YouTube.

“I just interviewed a 104-year-old (veteran) who still rides a bike,” said Sharma, who started interviewing veterans when he was still in high school and decided to take his project on the road after he was out of school. He would eventually like to expand his project into a documentary series and also incorporate elements of all of the different places he has traveled to conduct the interviews.

He is impressed by the health, vigor and longevity of the World War II combat vets as well as by their wit and interesting stories.

He said they really do seem to be set apart as special and should serve as examples to younger generations, he said.

Many of the people he has talked with are community-minded, active and interested in working with others to accomplish common goals. Most of the men were in their late teens to early 30s at the time they served and they had grown up in a country that was still heavily influenced by Christian values and was going through the Great Depression.

It wasn’t uncommon for a young man in those times to quit school in his early teens and go to work to support his family just because it was needed. These same ordinary, good men were then sent to war, where many of them were forced to kill or be killed. One veteran Sharma interviewed said the memory of having killed, even though he had no choice at the time, is a burden that he carries.

Sharma said the combat veterans and the West helped save the world. In four or five generations, the descendants of today’s World War II veterans will really be able to know them and what they went through because their stories have been visually recorded. Their images, body language, the way they talk and tell their stories will make the history come alive in a way that still photos and written accounts do not, Sharma said. He said it is a great shame that so few veterans of World War I were recorded.

At Sharma’s last count, there are 600,000 surviving World War II veterans in the U.S., 500,000 in the United Kingdom, 100,000 in Canada and about 100,000 in Australia and New Zealand.

His ambitious goal is to talk with a veteran every single day that he can.

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