They brought their medals, documents and photos. Most importantly, they brought their memories of war.
Fourteen veterans arrived at Alvin Community College on July 19 to work with court reporting students for the Library of Congress Veterans History Project, which documents the experiences of veterans.
World War II veteran Elmer Lee, 88, of Alvin, talked about his time in the U.S. Navy piloting boats loaded with men and equipment in the Pacific during the fight against the Japanese.
Lee was also sent to Japan after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
“Our ship took off as fast as we could go,” he said. “They were congregating us for the invasion of Japan.”
The invasion never came as the Japanese surrendered in September.
Lee’s daughter Betty Deaton came with him to the college. The Veterans History Project is a valuable endeavor because so many World War II veterans are passing away.
“It’s great that they’re going to take this down and preserve it,” she said.
Court reporting student Amy Quincey said she first learned about the project at a Texas Court Reporters Association convention and wanted to participate.
“The stories are very interesting and they come from so many different perspectives,” she said.
Each veteran worked with an interviewer and a court reporter who transcribed the veterans’ stories verbatim.
Charles Michalak, 61, of Alvin, worked as part of a helicopter crew while serving in the Navy during the Vietnam War. The helicopters would take on gunfire from the enemy as the crew tried to carry fallen troops.
The sonar expert also shared stories while working as a sonar expert, hunting for Russian submarines off the coast of California in the 1960s.
On one particular outing, Michalak recalled finding a Russian trawler and then exchanging gifts with the crew members.
“It was a game,” he said. “We were out there playing hunt and seek. It wasn’t the people but the governments who were at war.”
Michalak said he agreed to share his experiences because it was important to record the history while helping court reporting students improve their skills.
“I’m here to help the students,” he said.
The veterans also talked about their lives after the war and how they were treated once they arrived home.
“You go in as a child and you come out a man,” he said.
Once he moved back to Alvin, Lee became a rancher. He also raises and sells hay to cattle ranchers.
While visiting San Francisco in the 1960s, Michalak said he was cursed by people as he walked around the city in uniform.
That wasn’t the case in Alvin, he said.
“The people here in Alvin have been beautiful,” he said.
To learn more about the Veterans History project, visit www.loc.gov/vets.