Every day the number of surviving WWII veterans is dwindling, but Rishi Sharma of Augora Hills, Calif., Has made it her goal to preserve the memory and stories of these veterans.
The stories and experiences of WWII veterans have been collected and preserved by Sharma and her project “Heroes of The Second World War”. Sharma spent June 21 talking to William “Bill” Orme, native of Van Buren on his experiences during WWII.
Sharma started “Heroes of the Second World War” when he was in high school, and now at 23, he has interviewed approximately 1,100 WWII veterans from around the world.
The number of veterans interviewed grows daily as Sharma travels the country. Sharma has traveled to 45 states, Canada, UK, Australia and New Zealand.
“The aim is to preserve these stories so that future generations can understand the price that has been paid with blood and sacrifice for our comfortable existence,” said Sharma.
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His goal is to continue interviewing veterans every day until the last one dies.
When Sharma came to Fort Smith, he met World War II veteran William “Bill” Orme at Butterfield Place. Orme was part of the 175th regiment of the 29th division. On D-Day, he gave blood for the troops who were on the front lines of Normandy. But soon after, Orme himself would go to those same beaches.
“He came in as a substitute about 15 days later, and he saw a lot of action. He was injured, hit in the shoulder,” said Sharma. “He went through hell at a young age, so people like us wouldn’t have to.”
Shortly after Sharma graduated from high school, CBS found out about his project and made a story about him. From that point on, he was able to secure enough funds and donations, around $ 200,000, to spend his time on the road interviewing veterans.
“I haven’t been home for over four years, just did some interviews,” Sharma said.
It has also been featured in The New York Times and The Associated Press.
Once the interview is complete, Sharma will give a video copy of the full interview to the veteran’s family. A copy is also donated to the WWII Memorial in Washington, DC
Legends of WWII is a Youtube channel run by Sharma that collects all of her interviews for the public.
16 million Americans served in World War II and in 2020 there were approximately 325,500 still alive. The youngest of them are only 95 years old. According to the National WWII Museum, around 256 of them die every day. In Arkansas, 2,890 were still living in 2020.
It is estimated that by the 2030s all WWII veterans will be dead.
“The people who die at the highest rate are Vietnam veterans,” Sharma said. “WWII veterans live the longest because they’ve always had an active lifestyle. They’re just strong people, mentally, to survive the worst war in human history.”
Sharma remembered the past interviews he had conducted. An interview that marked him is that of a man who lost both his legs at the age of 19. He had only fought for a few weeks.
“His family said he had never complained for a day in his life,” Sharma said.
According to Sharma, this veteran went to work for Veterans Affairs for 37 years and made prostheses for soldiers who suffered the same fate as him.
Sharma will return to Van Buren in the future to interview other veterans. He can be reached via his website heroesofthesecondworldwar.org or (202) 315-8743 if you know of a WWII veteran who would like to be interviewed.