When Tech. Sgt. Paul Cocanour, 419th Maintenance Squadron Phase Dock coordinator, was attending Westminster College, he recalled the stories his grandfather told him about flying Search and Rescue missions over the "hump" in B-25s during World War II. As a wedding videographer earning extra money for school, he always intended to visit Seattle and capture his war experiences on video but before he could, the veteran died due to age-related causes.
Not long ago as he was driving to work, he heard Kimball Clark being interviewed on National Public Radio about Clark's efforts in recording as many veterans and some WWII civilians as he can in an attempt to save their stories and was looking for others to help.
So he volunteered.
Cocanour has interviewed two veterans so far and intends to assist Clark, WarBlitz.com creator, in capturing as many veterans' war experiences as possible sometime before the end of this year.
Cocanour has video recorded Wallace Gatrell, a WWII supply troop and Korean War tank officer, and Glen Paulsen, U.S. Navy WWII chief petty officer and civil servant, as the two were interviewed by someone else and finds the experience to be quite amazing.
"It was a great way for me to combine my passion for history and my (video) skills," he said. Video recording helps capture some of the emotions of the veterans, "You can see it in the eyes and in their faces."
The resulting interviews are to be compiled on Google's experimental new search feature called GAUDI if all efforts to that effect prevail and Kimball's collaboration with Google bears out. The interviews will be searchable by phrase and do not have to be transcribed in their entirety in order to be accessed.
"The great thing about this is that someone does not have to sit down for two hours and listen to an entire tape before finding out whether or not the information they are searching for is on that tape,"
"I learned a lot about World War II (from the Web site). There are so many stories from so many different sectors of the world. I learned a lot about World War II doing this -- the war was being fought on almost every continent," Cocanour said.
So far 15 people have been interviewed by the project.
Says Cocanour, "Stuff that they saw is real similar to the stuff that I saw when I was there." He has deployed several times in the contingency efforts and fighting two wars and he said in some ways it was reassuring to see that there aren't a lot of changes. "It might be a different war but your stories and your experiences almost seem to correlate in a different time but the same kind of stories is really interesting.
"Just that they didn't have enough toiletries," he said. "It was the same for us."
One of the veterans interviewed still had a bag of toiletries provided by the Red Cross during WWII. "He still had the bag. It moved him so much at the time that he got these simple amenities ... that he kept it," Cocanour said.
The toilet paper was still in the bag, a sewing kit and some bits of candy.
"It really opens your eyes into their great sacrifices," he said, although many of them are quite humble about it.
He could see a lot of humility as some of these members of this generation who responded to the call to service without fanfare.
He says a lot of times they will say things like, "I was just doing what my nation asked of me," "I just wanted to serve my country," or "I don't see why I need to be praised for it."
If their stories aren't told, Cocanour said, they might be gone forever.
Awhile back a military records storage facility burned down, and with it went a lot of personal records on paper.
One of the veterans interviewed by the project had a copy of a record to prove that he had served in the military in WWII, or he wouldn't have been able to prove it when needed for his benefits.
Cocanour maintains that's kind of the point. When his grandfather first attended reunions for the CBI Pilots Association -- those assigned to fly China-Burma-India -- there were thousands of them.
There were 6,000 pilots who flew the hump. As of 2005, there were only 400 surviving pilots. In 2005, the CBI held their last reunion.
Cocanour's grandfather was attached to a special search and rescue unit so in 2000 there were only 14 surviving pilots of his unit. He died in May 2001.
"The last time he attended (before he died) there were only 14 and that was 10 years ago," Cocanour said. "I believe there are only four or five living now."
Videographers, interviewers, photo scanners and those with some film editing skills are needed for the project.
For more information, visit the Web site at WarBlitz.com.