Recorder of veteran’s memories retires
There is a changing of the guard for recording the remembrances of local military veterans.
For three years, Mike Neal, of Loomis, has videotaped and sent to the Library of Congress the recollections of 32 local veterans as part of the Veterans History Project of the Library of Congress. He said many of the vets served in World War II.
Neal did not serve in the military, but is a history buff and a collector of WWII memorabilia. After he retired, he was drawn to the project and decided to participate. He said the Town of Loomis purchased a video camera and donated the use of the Loomis Train Depot for filming.
Neal then set about finding veterans willing to share their wartime experiences. He said what stands out from all of the interviews is the emotion still attached to decades-old memories. He said most interviews would begin with matter of fact questions, and then veterans would begin speaking about combat and friends they lost.
“They became very emotional about what they went through. They can look back after all these years and still get very emotional. The width and breadth of experiences they’d gone through was still like yesterday to them,” Neal said.
Most WWII vets had been in very harrowing situations where they lost friends and they still remember.”
He said many of the locals he interviewed were Japanese veterans.
“They volunteered to serve their country in combat while their families were interred – basically held prisoner,” Neal said.
Neal recalls interviewing the late Al Nitta, who served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the Japanese American battalion that earned 21 Medals of Honor during World War II.
Neal said Nitta was still “angry as hell and rightfully so” when he spoke of returning to the states after the war in Europe ended and being sent to a training school for Caucasian officers. Neal said Nitta told him that he was made to dress in a Japanese uniform and was paraded in front of the officers to show them what a soldier in Japan would look like.
Neal said the families of the veterans he interviewed received copies of the films. He said many relatives said the vets had never spoken of some the recollections he recorded.
Neal said he also interviewed veterans from Viet Nam and Desert Storm, but felt he was running out of leads and it was time for another to take up the cause and find more vets to interview.
In stepped Viet Nam Navy veteran Bob Golling, who was interviewed and filmed by Neal and had helped him with other interviews.
Golling said he is a writer and a member of a veterans group that meets quarterly to write their stories of their war experiences and that the writing has been a catharsis for many vets.
“These things that have happened to us when we were very young – we didn’t have the emotional intelligence to handle some of this until the wisdom of our years,” Golling said.
Golling said the Library of Congress puts some of the videos online and some are placed in the archives.
“These are amazing resources for future generations,” he said.
Golling said he plans to contact veterans groups and attend veteran events to find those who would like to share their experiences.
Golling can be reached at 652-4950 or bobgolling@gmailcom, and said he is willing to film veterans wherever they are most comfortable.