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Recording veterans' histories, one story at a time

Program aims to recruit local veterans to tell of their experiences

Posted: July 6, 2008 12:13 a.m.
Updated: September 6, 2008 5:02 a.m.

Veterans of all ages and all branches of the armed services line up during the Saturday evening event honoring local veterans at the Senior Center in Newhall.

If you are one of the thousands of veterans living in the Santa Clarita Valley, Herbert Hightower and Morris Deason want to hear your story.

The two local residents, who have each dedicated time to serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, are bringing the national Veterans History Project, organized by the Library of Congress, to the Santa Clarita Valley to make sure that local veterans have their voices heard and preserved.

In an effort to promote the project, the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center hosted an evening of speakers and entertainment on Saturday to not only honor those who have served the country, but also to recruit veterans for the historical program.

In a room filled with American flags, patriotic streamers and government posters from the World War II era, more than 100 veterans, many in their uniforms, sat while listening to speakers and receiving rounds of applause from the many, including Mayor Bob Kellar, who thanked them for their service to the United States.

Two of the veterans were Harry Gratz of Canyon Country, who gave four years to the U.S. Army during World War II, and Valencia resident Nat Aboulafia, who served the Navy for three years during World War II.

“People need to be more sympathetic to veterans,” Gratz said, while sporting a World War II veteran hat.
Norman O’Dell of Canyon Country met General Douglas MacArthur when he worked in the Army’s financial office in the Philippines at the end of World War II.

“It was something else,” he said about his 19 months in the Philippines, noting that people today don’t understand what it was like to serve because they’ve never had to.

Helen Johnson of Newhall was one of the few women at the event. For one year, Johnson served WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) during World War II when she worked at the San Diego Naval Hospital delivering babies.

When asked about her experience, Johnson said, “It gave me peace of mind knowing I was serving my country.”

As for standing beside veterans decades later, she smiled and said, “It makes me proud to be one of them.”

Since the beginning of 2008, nearly 100 local veterans have been interviewed by College of the Canyons students through the Veterans History Project.

While COC will continue to interview and videotape veterans during the fall semester, Hightower and Deason have teamed up with the SCV Senior Center and SCV Historical Society to increase awareness about their program and invite veterans from all wars to participate.

Brad Berens, director of the SCV Senior Center, said the project appeals to the center as 2,000 of the nearly 9,000 senior citizens served by the organization are veterans.

With more than 100 veterans and their family members at the center on Saturday, Deason said he was “very pleased with the turnout” and anticipates more veterans will sign up to tell their stories.

Hightower noted that every veteran who served in combat needs to have their stories recorded because they have contributed to making the United States of America.

“The freedom we enjoy today is because those guys had served,” he said.


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