Great Falls Tribune: Veterans History Project Kicks Off

When Andrew Kim was a 15-year-old boy living in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, he woke up early one morning to go to a friend’s house.

In the distant skyline he saw a black speck and thought it was odd to see the U.S. Army Air Corps doing maneuvers on a Sunday. The speck got bigger and he realized it was a Japanese fighter. The pilot tipped his wings to Kim and Kim’s friends as he passed by.

It was Dec. 7, 1941, and the world would never be the same.

And nearly four years later, Kim, now serving in the Navy aboard a support ship in Tokyo Bay when Japan surrendered, bringing an end to World War II.

Kim, a World War II, Korean and Vietnam war veteran who now lives in Helena, was honored Saturday by Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., for being among the first Montanans who told their story to the Veterans History Project. Kim, 88, was honored along with Ethel La Rock, a retired lieutenant colonel who received the bronze star in 1967. She was unable to attend the ceremony.

“You’re leading by example as you have done your entire life,” Daines said at a kickoff of the Veterans History Project at Fort Harrison.

Congress created the Veterans History Project in 2000 as part of the American Folklife Center at the Library Congress, where the stories of wartime veterans are stored.

Since then, 99,312 veterans have told their stories, said Robert W. Patrick, director of the Veterans History Project American Folklife Center in Washington, D.C.

Of those, 490 are from Montana, even though Montana has a high per capita rate of veterans.

Saturday’s event was for volunteers and including training by the center on how to interview veterans and record their stories.

There are many reasons some veterans have not participated, he said.

“For a lot of veterans, it’s hard,” Patrick said, adding they have seen things that many people cannot imagine. He also said “WWII veterans come from a generation that is modest.”

But he also noted there are less than 1 million World War II veterans who are still alive and about 600 a day die.

About 50 people showed up at Fort Harrison on Saturday for a workshop to learn how to conduct and preserve interviews of veterans.

Patrick told the volunteers they were the “heart and soul” of the project.

“This is something that is near and dear to me,” said Chuck Renevier of Bozeman, who is associated with the Vietnam Veterans of America. “My family keeps telling me how I have to tell my story. Maybe I will, when the time is right.”

Donna Alexander of Belgrade, who is with the Military Order of the Purple Heart, said she came to learn about how to capture veteran’s stories.

“I think everyone has a unique voice and a unique story of experiences,” she said.

Maj. Gen. Matthew Quinn, adjutant general for Montana, commander of the Montana National Guard and the director of the Department of Military Affairs, said he did not need the microphone provided to make his feelings heard.

“My family has often said to me ‘hey, you need to write down what you have done,’” he said and he said what the people who volunteered to give up their time to tell stories were doing an important task.

Daines agreed.

“There were a lot of other things you could have done today, but you have chosen to be here, to serve our veterans,” he said.

Daines said one of his great uncles, Tom Tarbet died Feb. 3, 1943, on the S.S. Dorchester, the warship made famous for the four chaplains who gave up their lifejackets, helped other soldiers to safety, and stood arm in arm singing hymns and praying as they went down with the ship.

Another great uncle, Russ Tarbet, also had served in the Pacific in World War II.

“How sad that my grandmother did not pass along those stories,” he said.

Daines has created a link to the Veterans History Project on his website. Learn more by visiting