LINCOLN (AP) — Some Nebraska veterans have been sharing their war stories with a researcher from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, telling him things they've never told their families.
“It's easier for them to talk to someone they're not emotionally connected with,” said Brian O'Grady, a library staffer at UNL. But he said he's given copies of the interviews to their families.
O'Grady said his project stemmed from his interest in the World War II battle for the Pacific Ocean island of Tarawa.
“I've always been a World War II buff, almost all my life,” O'Grady said. “One thing I wanted to do was interview veterans who had been part of that battle.”
He'd planned to write scholarly articles about the three-day struggle but learned that the battle already had been thoroughly examined. So he said he turned his attention to Nebraska residents who'd survived the bloody fight.
His first interview was in 2006 with Tarawa veteran Eugene Horst, of Halsey, who manned a machine gun as a Marine.
“Their unique experiences are their own story that would never appear in the textbook probably but is a small piece to a puzzle, which is the story of World War II or the story of Pearl Harbor,” O'Grady said. He also has interviewed people who fought in Korea and Vietnam, as well as a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Gerald Bichlmeier talked with O'Grady about visiting the Nazi death camp at Buchenwald after it was liberated.
Soldiers had cleared away the bodies and moved survivors by the time he arrived, Bichlmeier said, but the odor of death and decay was overpowering.
“This was a stench that would make you vomit,” Bichlmeier told O'Grady.
A few weeks before Bichlmeier died, O'Grady gave a copy of the video interview to his daughter, Kathy Berrick. In the video, Bichlmeier talked about spending a night in a schoolhouse without a roof during the Battle of the Bulge, which began in December 1944. He said it was so cold, “you had to dance around to keep your feet warm.”
Berrick was transfixed by the interview.
“It was just so wonderful to see my dad speaking about things he hadn't spoken about in the past and getting to see all the different sides of him, including his sense of humor,” Berrick said.
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