Preserving their stories

BROOKLINE – 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.”

In their own words

To honor our veterans of all generations and provide our readers with a snapshot of some of their experiences during and after their service, below are some of their comments transcribed from their interviews with Vetflix. The stories below, and many more, can be found at and

War is something you want to forget

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,” said Flannery 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.”

No bomb shelters

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.”

Morrison also described being attached to Marine Air Group that was building an airfield, and having to rebuild it several times after it was blown up, and about unknowingly helping with the invasion of Japan.

“One of the commanders said to me, ‘If there’s a piece of equipment you need and don’t have, go procure it.’ We would steal from other groups. In the end of July and early August, we were crating stuff up and marking it Coronet with stencils. We didn’t ask any questions. For our five years after the war was over, I was reading a magazine like Reader’s Digest only it was called Coronet. They had quite an article and were very proud of the fact that their name was the code name for the invasion of Japan. We packed it all up and didn’t know.”

Built hundreds of coffins, a very sad night

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. I do have bits of shrapnel still in my back, the slivers you get from being around and don’t even know you’ve been hit, but that was a very sad night for me.”

Doing the right thing

Ray Vercoe, of Laconia, was born in 1941, and served in U.S. Navy in Vietnam from 1963-69. In a segment called “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. Life is full of important decisions. Obviously education, career, marriage, but 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.”

In another segment, Vercoe spoke about being stationed on a main road near the ocean, with a Marine base nearby that was constantly under attack from the Vietcong, which affected his camp.

“You didn’t know who your enemy was a good part of the time. What you thought was a safe place wasn’t. I was on a ship unloading materials and the barracks were wiped out. There were explosions all night long. It was a bad scene.”

Coming home

One of the more compelling videos made by Vetflix intersperses comments from three veterans about their homecoming experiences, one from World War II, one from Vietnam and one from Afghanistan.

Jim Hasson, of Cavendish, Vt., returned to the U.S. at the end of the war, arriving in San Francisco on Sept. 9, 1945.

“There were sirens and clanging and people yelling that the war was over,” he said. “There a flotilla of boats. A whale comes up, blows water out of its hole, slaps its tail – boy, this is quite a party. On the Marin County side (of the Golden Gate Bridge) there was a big sign: ‘Welcome Home, Well Done.’ On the starboard side, trucks and cars were blowing their horns. We’d won the war, no doubt about it.”

In sharp contrast, Bear Holland, of Washington, N.C., described his experience upon returning from Vietnam.

“I went from being in a combat zone to out of the Army in 24 hours,” he said. “I had my free steak, my new uniform, but no ribbons. They didn’t give us any National Defense Ribbons. They said they were out because there were so many people, but it was their feeble attempt to protect us in the airports. They didn’t want us to have Vietnam campaign ribbons on. While I was waiting to catch a flight in Chicago at O’Hare, a little girl came up to me with a big smile. I reached out and patted her on the head, and a banshee came out of my peripheral vision, her mother, and grabbed her by the arm, snatched her back, and said, ‘Get away from my daughter, you baby-killing bastard.’ She spat on the floor in front of me. At the time, I was in complete shock, breathless and had no idea what to do or say. I just turned around and walked off. I spent the next 16 years with absolutely no use for the American public.”

Michael Brophy, of St. Petersburg, Fla., has served in the military since 2003, and described his return from being at Guantanamo.

“You get home and people say you’ve changed,” he said. “They shape you in your core and you don’t even realize it ‘til a year down the road. You look back on what you used to do or how you used to react and maybe that did have something to do with it. This is the most life-changing detrimental deployment I’ve ever been on.”

Invisible wounds
and PTSD

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. Some nights I shot the kid, some nights he blew me up, some nights he blew up all my friends and I’m the only one standing there. It just feeds into sleeplessness.

“There’s such a stigma now with post-traumatic stress. It’s not an infectious disease. Americans need to understand that someone with PTSD can still do a great job and be part of society. Just because it is an invisible wound doesn’t mean it is a negative thing. We are not the same people we were, we’ve changed, we’ve seen and done things. The vet did it 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. We should help our own before we help other countries.”