California teen dedicates life to finding World War II vets This Oct. 17, 2016 photo Rishi Sharma interviews World War II veteran William Hahn, at his home in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
California teen dedicates life to finding World War II vets
Lexile

For as long as he can remember, Rishi Sharma's heroes haven't been sports stars or movie stars or any other kind of stars. They've been the U.S. combat veterans who won World War II.
 
Alarmed that even the youngest of them are now in their 90s and dying each day by the hundreds, the Southern California teenager has launched a campaign. He wants to try to ensure each one's legacy.
 
"I'm on a mission to in-depth film interview a World War II combat veteran every single day," the 19-year-old said. He had just spent an afternoon in the living room of William R. Hahn of Los Angeles, where Sharma mined the 93-year-old's memories for hours.
 
His Canon 70D camera rolling, his long, jet-black hair tied back in a tight ponytail, the son of Indian immigrants listened intently. Hahn recounted how he received the Silver Star for bravery by charging through a hail of gunfire on Easter Sunday 1945. This was as Allied forces retook the German town of Hettstandt.
 
Asked if he considers himself a hero, Hahn chuckled.
 
"Not really," said the retired metal-shop teacher. He said he had a bullet come so close to him that it blew the canteen on his belt to smithereens. Other guys, he said, did similar things. Not all came back to talk about it.
 
Sharma wants to meet and honor every one who did. He knows time is not on his side.
 
Of the approximately 16 million Americans who served in some capacity during WWII, some 620,000 survive. They are dying at the rate of nearly 400 a day. That's according to the National Museum of World War II.
 
"I want to create this movement where people, where they just realize that we have such a limited time with these men who saved humanity," he said. "Let's try to learn as much as we can from them and give them a proper send-off. And make them feel like the sacrifices they made were worth it."
 
He figures he's got about 10 years to do that. He's putting off college, putting off finding a job, putting off looking for a girlfriend, putting off just about everything except occasionally eating and sleeping between interviewing combat veterans.
 
Since childhood, Sharma said, he's been fascinated by the sacrifices men his age made during WWII, risking their lives for freedom. They returned home to raise families and take everyday jobs as they transitioned back to civilian life.
 
He read every book and watched every documentary he could find. But it wasn't until his junior year at Agoura Hills High School, just north of Los Angeles, that he became committed to meeting them.
 
He came across the name Lyle Bouck, one of the heroes of Germany's Battle of the Bulge, as he read historian Stephen Ambrose's book "Citizen Soldiers."
 
Fascinated, he looked up Bouck's phone number and called him, not realizing it was 1 a.m. where the 92-year-old war hero lives. A friendly voice on the other end of the phone told Sharma if he called back at a decent hour, Bouck would be happy to talk.
 
That's when the teen had a big idea.
 
"It made me realize these guys are really out there! And I could do this for all of them."
 
Soon Sharma was riding his bike to every retirement home within pedaling distance. After he interviewed every combat-hardened soldier there, he turned to veterans' halls, then the Internet.
 
Borrowing his parents' car, he traveled to Oregon over the summer, then back down the California coast, interviewing still more people. He's up to about 160, and has plans to expand his travels in the weeks ahead to Arizona and other states and, on next month's 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, to Hawaii.
 
He makes a DVD of every interview and gives it to the veteran. Some have passed on copies to the World War II museum.
 
"He's just totally dedicated and a very decent young fellow," said Howie Beach of Fullerton, whom Sharma interviewed. What he is doing is important, said Beach, another Silver Star recipient who at 91 sometimes speaks to high school groups.
 
"But a lot of them go on their merry way, just taking their lives and their freedoms and all that for granted," Beach said of those students. "So it's good to see a young man like Rishi with such a convincing way about him."
 
Such an effort doesn't come cheap, however, and Sharma quickly exhausted his modest life's savings carrying it out. He raised about $3,300 through a GoFundMe account and has spent most of that. To economize during the Oregon-Northern California trip, he limited himself to one meal every other day.
 
But Sharma, who also founded a nonprofit called, Heroes of the Second World War, has huge dreams for his effort. He'd like to recruit others to help conduct interviews, perhaps get the interviews to museums and allow others to get to know some of the people he says have become his closest friends.
 
"This one guy I interviewed in Oregon told me he hadn't been visited by anyone in over five months and that he was just waiting to die," Sharma recalled. "This is a 94-year-old who saw combat in the South Pacific, and now he has no one."

Filed Under:  
Assigned 101 times
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why do so many WWII vets die every day?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (4)
  • jackiek-orv
    11/14/2016 - 11:26 a.m.

    so many WWII vets die every day because they are old.

  • hlily-dav
    11/16/2016 - 05:10 p.m.

    In response to "California teen dedicates life to finding World War II vets" I agree that someone should go out and meet veterans. One reason I agree is that it is a good way to find out more about history. There is no one better to ask about the battles of World War II then the people who fought them. Although we know very much about the war, their might be some secrets to uncover. Another reason is that is gives these veterans a new purpose in life. It says in the article, "This one guy I interviewed in Oregon told me he hadn't been visited by anyone in over five months and that he was just waiting to die," Sharma recalled. "This is a 94-year-old who saw combat in the South Pacific, and now he has no one." Since these veterans are old they can't do much, so I think they will truly be grateful for this.These veterans have done so much for this country, and they deserve to be appreciated. A third reason is it reminds people of how much veterans have done for this country and how different it would be without them. In the article it says,"But a lot of them go on their merry way, just taking their lives and their freedoms and all that for granted," Beach said of those students." Many people don't realize how lucky they are to be free, and these veterans remind people that they should be grateful for what they have. Even though some people think it's bad that young man is putting his life on hold for this,I think it's a great idea to learn the stories of World War II veterans.

  • hcicily-dav
    11/17/2016 - 08:07 p.m.

    "California teen dedicates life to finding World War II vets" is a very inspirational story that shows the leadership and care of a human being. "Since childhood, Sharma said, he's been fascinated by the sacrifices men his age made during WWII, risking their lives for freedom." Sharma has devoted his life to finding and interviewing World War II soldiers. These soldiers helped fight for our freedom and our rights and Sharma has been thanking and respecting all of these soldiers which our society has been forgetting to do. This is bad because all of these soldiers are so old that they are dying and no one is recognizing them for their work. Although this good teen is traveling and interviewing as many as he can so they can get the representation they deserve. Many people do not take World War II veterans serious but they should because they are running out and they helped rebuild our country.

  • natalies-
    2/07/2017 - 08:44 a.m.

    So many WWII vets die everyday, because of their age. It's been years since that war, which means these people are probably in their 90's and that is a common age area where natural causes take over leading to death.

Take the Quiz Leave a comment
ADVERTISEMENT