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Recording vets' wartime stories — before their histories disappear — is this man's mission

| Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013, 12:05 a.m.

My father, a veteran, kept a journal of his time in Vietnam. The original journal itself took a beating.

It had been covered in plastic bags, but also slept on and dragged through dirt and water while being transported from camp to camp. What the elements didn't do to corrode the pages, time handled. But he was able to transcribe the writings into an electronic journal on a computer disc.

He didn't do this right after he returned to the States. He waited some 30 years, likely because as with any traumatic experience, you need distance from it to be able to look back on it with any clarity, or really to look at it at all.

This is the part of the problem Kevin Farkas must solve. He is the director of Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh. His mission is to create a record of the stories of area veterans who served in any capacity during wartime. He started recording veterans' stories in 2010. Shortly afterward, he began working with the Veterans Breakfast Club, a group of veterans who meet regularly over breakfast and exchange stories of their time in combat.

Farkas, a Navy veteran, so far has recorded about 200 veterans' accounts.

There are more stories left to be told. But there is a waiting list of 100 veterans willing to talk about their experiences. Some of them will die before they get to tell their stories. The group doesn't have the manpower or resources to get to all of the veterans right away.

“This isn't about glorifying war,” Farkas said, “but (about) a veteran's experience.”

It's a way to humanize the experience. It's not always easy to get veterans to tell their stories.

The older generation doesn't tell them because it never felt comfortable talking about them, or they feel that they've already told them and no one wants to hear them anymore, Farkas said.

Younger veterans, who have seen up close how today's weapons technology has become more accurate and deadly, are not ready to talk, Farkas said.

“The war experience is too raw for them,” he said.

These obstacles can make it difficult to reach the indifferent and properly highlight the sacrifices and contributions of veterans.

“We want to get these stories out to a generation that doesn't have a clue,” Farkas said.

Farkas said he has three recording sessions coming up soon. Two will take place at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Oakland, and the other will be in Connellsville right after Thanksgiving. The interviewee is a female pilot from World War II, a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPS), whose contributions were not honored as veterans until the 1970s.

Sound interesting? If you have multimedia experience and can donate some time, Farkas wants to hear from you. Contact him at 412-423-8034 or by email at kevin@veteranvoicesofpittsburgh.com.

To see the stories already told, visit http://veteranvoicesofpittsburgh.com.

The Veterans Breakfast Club and Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh is having a Veterans Day breakfast on Monday in the first floor mezzanine at Libermann Hall at Duquesne University, 600 Forbes Avenue, beginning at 7:30 a.m. Veteran storytelling will begin at 10 a.m. For more information, go to http://veteransbreakfastclub.com, email Todd DePastino at todd@veteransbreakfastclub.com or call him at 412-623-9029.

Nafari Vanaski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8669, nvanaski@tribweb.com or on Twitter @NafariTrib.

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