By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
Rishi Sharma is barely 20 years old, and since graduating from high school, he has made it his “ten year plan” to interview every remaining WWII veteran possible and capture their story before they pass. Approximately 500 members of the Greatest Generation die every day, and while they have been famous for not talking much about their battlefield experiences, now that they are facing their own mortality they are ready to talk. And Rishi is ready to listen and record.
Rishi is a second generation American, the son of immigrants from India. The fire in his belly with regard to WWII vets was lit when he was a junior in high school, and although he was already quite interested in their stories, it was having the chance to interview Lyle Bouck, one of the heroes of the Battle of the Bulge that got him started on his quest to interview at least one vet per day.
Rishi’s parents are not exactly thrilled. He has put off going to college, building a career, as well as pursuing any dating relationship, and this was not what they had in mind for their son when they came to the States. Rishi’s peers don’t get it, either. Many of them don’t even know what WWII was about, where it was fought, or who the major players were. “Kids my age have absolutely no idea what it was like for these men,” he says. “They are more concerned about what the Kardashians are wearing.”
But the vets get it, and here they are, face to face with a pony-tailed kid who says of their legacy, “What good is what they had to go through if we don’t learn from it?” Sharma seriously doubts that there will ever be another Greatest Generation, due to the fact that they went from having to be tough during the Great Depression straight into having to be tougher on the beaches of Normandy and Iwo Jima. It was also a time of clear-sighted morality and commitment. “It was good versus evil,” he said, and he believes that without apology.
Rishi enters the warriors’ presence with a Canon camera, a tri-pod, and respect. He donates the DVD of the interview to each vet as a gift, and some interviews have ended up in museums. He searches out vets’ locations all over the country and most often finds them in senior care facilities. While many times I am not a big fan of crowd-source funding, this is something I can get behind, and I hope Athens Now will consider backing him in his quest of preserving one of the greatest stories ever told.
The success of Rishi’s business plan, the amount raised to date, and the media attention he has received has made his parents slightly more supportive of his unusual passion. As of this month, Rishi has raised more than $130,000 for his project, the majority of which is used to fund his ability to quickly get to the vets, eat, shower, sleep, and move on. He started out by riding his bike to talk to local vets, borrowed his parents’ car for a road trip, and now is criss-crossing the country, knowing he can’t get to everyone but determined to try.
“I am doing this until the last one passes away,” Sharma says. “Each interview helps me get closer to understanding what combat was like in the worst war the world has ever seen. You talk to them and take that load off,” he says. “They no longer need to worry about the war. They can die in peace.” If you wish to give an unusual gift this holiday, consider going to gofundme.com/ww2heroes to help Rishi honor our aged brave ones. The clock is ticking.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner