Veterans History Project Gains Momentum

Suzy Hopkins
By Suzy Hopkins March 15, 2011 10:47

Marcia Baugh and veteran Robert Ottesen

Their stories, inspiring and heroic, are held tight in the memories of men and women who put their lives on the line for our freedoms seven decades ago.

But now these often modest World War II veterans are in their 80s and 90s, and those stories are at risk. Fewer than 2 million of the 16.1 million American veterans of the war are still living, and nearly 1,000 of them die each day. With them, all too often, go their inspiring stories.

The Veterans History Project, at least in Tuolumne County, aims to remedy that.

Project coordinator Deanna Maurer and her staff of volunteers in the months and years ahead will interview as many of the county’s surviving WWII vets as possible, and archive those stories and related photos on the Friends and Neighbors website, seniorfan.com.

Each Veterans History booklet also will be cataloged and shelved at Columbia College Library. “We are pleased to assist in the archiving of these valuable stories,” said Brian Greene, college librarian. Links to the online archive will be available from the library’s website, gocolumbia.edu/library.

The veterans’ history project has already recruited 10 volunteer interviewers, and its first story – about Army Quartermaster Robert Ottesen, interviewed by Marcia Baugh – is archived in the magazine website, under the links, “Veterans History Project, VHP Archive.” In the coming year, Maurer said, each volunteer hopes to complete interviews with one or two local WWII vets, creating a base of stories.

“Eventually we’ll move on to Korea and Vietnam vets,” she said, “but now, time is of the essence and we’re concentrating on WWII. We don’t want to lose those stories.”

Maurer founded the VHP after writing a Friends and Neighbors story on USS Enterprise sailor Jack Glass. The magazine, since its 2008 launch, has regularly featured World War II veterans’ wartime accounts, now archived on the magazine’s website under “Veterans.”

“That gave me an appreciation of how valuable and important these stories are,” said Maurer. “I brainstormed, researched the national Veterans History Project, talked to some local vets and came up with the idea.”

Friends and Neighbors came on board as a co-sponsor and home of the project’s online archive.

“Our call for volunteers got a really good response,” said Maurer, a professional fundraiser who is now executive director of the Sonora-based Central Sierra Arts Council. “Most of them had friends who were WWII vets, and wanted to help tell their stories.”

Baugh, 68, knew Ottesen because they attend the same church. She volunteered in part “because I got an A in high school journalism,” but also to take her mind off her husband Jack’s decline from advanced Parkinson’s disease.

“I have a one-track mind, so if I was thinking about this project, I couldn’t think about my poor husband and myself,” she said. “In the end, I found it very interesting talking to Bob and helping to save these stories. It was world history that he lived through – big stuff.”

Ottesen, 87, found the process – three interviews, then reviewing a transcript of his story for accuracy – an interesting one.

“She did a great job,” he said of Baugh. “She drew me out, and it reminded me of things that I had forgotten long ago. I even remembered some of the more amusing things that happened. When you’re involved in a war, you have to keep your sense of humor too – it carries you through, sometimes.”

The stories of a WWII submariner, a Navy pilot who flew “The Hump,” and a woman who taught celestial navigation aboard a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier are in the works.

Maurer, a memoirist who has written a dozen personal histories for clients, says there are still plenty of local WWII vets with stories to tell. “If volunteers don’t have a vet friend of their own to talk to, we have a list of vets who are willing.”

Although the VHP deals solely with Tuolumne County veterans, some Calaveras County residents have expressed interest. “We’ll give them all the advice and support we can,” said Maurer.

Those interested in volunteering for the project, and veterans willing to detail their wartime experiences, may call Maurer at (209) 918-9287. For general information, call FAN Publisher Suzy Hopkins, (209) 536-1755.

© 2011 Friends and Neighbors

Suzy Hopkins
By Suzy Hopkins March 15, 2011 10:47