LITTLE VALLEY — A new Cattaraugus County project — “Our Veterans, Their Stories” — kicked off Wednesday as the effort seeks to preserve oral histories of veterans, present the human face of American history and honor county residents who swore to protect and defend the United States.
County officials from the Veterans Service Agency and Cattaraugus County Museum and Research Library are seeking veterans to participate in a new project that seeks to record their tales.
Video recordings will be made of interviews will be presented to the veterans and shared with the public, both online and at the County Museum. Veterans from all service branches, including National Guard and reserves, are encouraged to take part.
“I hear these stories on a regular basis,” said county Veterans Service Director Steve McCord. “We want to sit down with any veteran that wants to tell their story and we will record it.”
The project was made possible with a $20,000 amendment to the 2021 county budget requested by Legislator Norman Marsh, R-Little Valley.
On Wednesday, Marsh, who served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War, and Legislator Richard Helmich, R-Delevan, and McCord were the first to be interviewed. They met at the VFW outside Little Valley for the video recording.
“It was very interesting,” said Helmich, who served in a construction battalion in the U.S. Navy — the Seabees — during the Vietnam War. “They just let me ramble. The kids today don’t know what the war was about. They allowed me to tell my story, including about the Tet Offensive” in 1968.
Like many veterans, Helmich hasn’t talked much about his service during the Vietnam War, but he thinks it’s a good idea to search out veterans and their stories to record for the future.
“My dad never talked about World War II,” Helmich said. “He was in the fourth wave into Normandy and was in five major battles, including the Battle of the Bulge.”
Soldiers returning from Vietnam were not welcomed home with parades like after World War II, which further caused many veterans to keep their experiences to themselves.
Veterans from World War II will be prioritized because of their advanced ages, according to McCord, but any men and women who served in other wars like Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan are encouraged to participate in the project.
Marsh, who also served in Vietnam in the 1970s, was in a U.S. Air Force construction group called Red Horse 300. “We built things,” he said.
While not in direct combat, he came under mortar fire in Vietnam.
“Looking back, it was quite the thing,” he said. “For a long time, I didn’t talk about it. Over the years, it gets easier.”
Marsh also served stateside, maintaining Titan II missile sites in Kansas. Most people never realized the nuclear-tipped missiles were in silos beneath the prairie, he said.
The video will be edited and shown to county lawmakers in the coming weeks.
An official kickoff event is being planned at the County Museum on Armed Forces Day, May 15, McCord said.
An accompanying exhibit at the museum is also being planned, and veterans will be asked if they have any artifacts from their service they would be interested in displaying.
Anyone interested in participating, or a family member or friend knows anyone who might be, may contact McCord at the Veterans Service Agency at (716) 701-3298 or SEMcCord@cattco.org.
The County Museum can also be reached at (716) 353-8200.