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EVERETT — A pilot low on fuel, desperately searching for an airfield. Squadron-mates’ empty bunks following combat missions. A family lost to war.
These moments — and thousands more — are recalled by veterans in Chronicles of Courage: Stories of Wartime and Innovation, an online video archive of in-depth interviews put together by the Flying Heritage Collection.
The project, which was 15 years in the making, goes live Wednesday, the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. All 335 video interviews — some of which are two hours long — will be available on the Flying Heritage Collection’s website at www.flyingheritage.com/chronicles.
The oral history archive is the largest of its kind — online and free, according to the Flying Heritage Collection.
“There are no others like it,” said Cory Graff, the museum’s military aviation curator.
The Flying Heritage Collection is at Paine Field just south of Everett. The museum moved there in 2008, a few years after opening at its first home in Arlington. The collection is supported by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.
Vulcan Productions, which Allen owns, partnered with the museum to film the interviews. NBC Learns, the network’s educational division, has used the material to produce 20 short films, each about five minutes long and focused on a specific topic. The first 10 videos are available now via the Chronicles of Courage website. The rest will be released in 2017.
Veterans from more than a dozen countries were interviewed. Nearly one-third of the interviews were conducted in a language other than English.
The archive includes interviews with 44 women and covers six shooting conflicts.
“Most of these guys, they really downplay what they did,” Graff said.
Interviewers were respectful but did not shy away about discussing the painful memories of war.
“There are definitely times when the shadows of war would come out,” he said.
A former Boeing B-17 pilot, Elden Larson recalled watching a friend die after accidentally walking into an airplane’s spinning propeller during training.
“He was talking to somebody, and he backed into the prop,” he said in an interview filmed in 2014.
Larson said he was “less than 100 feet away from him when he did it. And this probably bothered me more than anything.”
But during war, “you’re in a business that you got to accept somebody is gonna die and that may be you.”
Preserving veterans’ accounts is incredibly important to future generations, Graff said.
Bob Drew, an Edmonds resident and World War II veteran, also was interviewed.
Drew flew a P-38 in the Pacific during the war. He arrived too late to see combat, but, still, he had plenty of close calls.
During a training mission in Texas, Drew found himself along with two other student pilots running low on fuel and lost.
“I radioed to them that at the next town, I’d drop down to see if I could read the town name on the water tower,” he told The Daily Herald in an interview.
The three managed to get their bearings and make their airfield before they ran out of fuel.
“I suppose there are a lot of people interested in these sort of things,” he said.
Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @dcatchpole.
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