Preserving their stories: Vetflix films conversations with veterans

A chance meeting with a centenarian living alone in a house he built by himself in the woods of Brookline provided the spark for a local man to start a new business focused on creating oral histories of our nation’s veterans, giving them a safe place to talk about their experiences, and helping educate the public about what those in the military go through, while on active duty and upon returning home.

Dan Marcek first met Bob Flannery in 2008 when he went to see about building a table for Flannery, and the two became fast friends. As Flannery began telling stories about the old days and the war, Marcek knew he had to do something to preserve these stories. By 2010, he had formed Vetflix, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating people about what those who serve experience by filming conversations with veterans.

“Our goal is to educate Americans about the human side of war by using the voices of veterans to help us all appreciate the unvarnished cost of our freedom,” Marcek said. “Many programs exist to help veterans, but Vetflix is unique in its mission to grow the community of people who care, empathize and act on their behalf.”

To honor our veterans and provide our readers with a snapshot of some of their experiences, below are some of their comments transcribed from their interviews with Vetflix. These stories can be found at www.vetflix.org and www.seabeetv.com.

Bob Flannery was the inspiration behind the creation of Vetflix. He was born in 1909, served in the U.S. Navy from 1942-45, earned a Purple Heart and was living in Brookline at the time of his death in 2011, just shy of his 102nd birthday.

“Some bombs exploded,” Flannery said during a 2010 interview. “Some shrapnel got me in the neck and got the kid with me in the ass. I thought a sniper got me. I fell in a puddle of water up to here (upper chest) and had a funny feeling. When I went down, I put my finger in the wound. I didn’t know it, but that blocked the blood off a little bit, but not altogether. Blood was staining the water, but I was at peace with the world. I never felt no pain, no discomfort, no nothing … No, the war is something you want to forget.”

Larry Morrison, of Hollis, was born in 1926 and served in the Navy from 1944-46. He talked about how he would attempt to determine how close the bombs were based on timing between explosions.

“One of the scariest things for me is that there were no bomb shelters. These things would go off and you would count one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two to give you an idea where it was coming from. As they got louder and louder, boy my heart started going.”

New Ipswich resident Eddie Aho was born in 1921 and served in the Navy from 1942-45. He discussed completing basic training in Van Nuys, Calif., and going to Oahu, Hawaii, right after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, where his assignment was to build coffins for those who had died during the bombing. He also was assigned to Canton Island.

“We had 55-gallon drums and made our own trenches. You could get in between (the drums) to protect yourself from shrapnel. One night, I was given a watchdog to patrol the shoreline (looking) for anyone trying to sneak onto the island. The air raid started, I ran behind the 55-gallon drums with the dog. The dog jumped up on top of the barrels, and a bomb went off right there. When I took him down, he had no head left. It was quite a scary thing . . . that was a very sad night for me.”

Ray Vercoe, of Laconia, was born in 1941, and served in the U.S. Navy in Vietnam from 1963-69. In “Moral Courage,” Vercoe discusses his decision to serve.

“Those who have the power to make war should give thought to it not being a sideshow. During the draft, not everybody accepted the war, but I did. My country called and it was my duty to serve . . . I faced one of the greatest decisions of my life when I was in Gulfport. Someone told me that if you were an only child, you didn’t have to go to war. I went to my commanding officer and asked if it was true, and said I wouldn’t go. After that, I couldn’t live with myself and felt like I was letting myself down and letting down the people serving. I went back to my CO and said I’ve done the wrong thing. I should serve. It was hard. I could have avoided the whole thing, but I didn’t think that was the right thing to do.”

Paul Roy Jr., of Nashua, is a U.S. Marine and currently serves in the National Guard. He described the effects of war and recurrent nightmares, known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“The worst part of not knowing who the enemy is: the kids,” he explained. “You are outside the wire, all suited up. There was this kid with a good sized cardboard box, a really big box, maybe 8 or 9 years old. He gets to a point 15 feet away and closing. I don’t know who he is. I took aim at him. It’s the lowest point of your life when you are pointing a loaded weapon at a kid. Without a doubt I would have shot him. The kid drops the box, it flops over and out spills a bunch of DVDs, but I didn’t know that. These images stick with you, and that doesn’t help the sleepless nights. It plays over and over in your mind, any number of different ways it could have ended.

“There’s such a stigma with post-traumatic stress. . . . Americans need to understand that someone with PTSD can still do a great job . . . We’ve changed, we’ve seen and done things . . . so the American person doesn’t have to see burned cars and smell the smells of a Third World country or live in fear. They have sacrificed for the American people and are home and need help getting back into the swing of things.”

Films by Vetflix will be shown at the Veterans Home in Tilton on Thursday, Nov. 14. The public is invited to attend the free showings. “Honoring Our Oldest: Stories from World War II and Korea,” will be shown at 3:30 p.m., followed by “Seabee TV: Meet Today’s Active Duty Seabees” at 6:30 p.m.