By Mercedes Leguizamon and Brandon Griggs, CNN
Ever since he was little, Rishi Sharma has enjoyed learning about the Second World War. Now he's taken his passion a big step further.
The 20-year-old from Agoura, California, is on a mission, and he's got a time crunch. He's trying to interview as many living World War II combat veterans as he can, to document their stories before they are lost forever.
In the past four years he has traveled to 45 states and Canada to interview more than 870 veterans.
But Sharma, who considers these vets his real-life history book, is still looking for more.He wants to preserve their stories for future generations. And he's grateful to them for their sacrifice.
"They've given us the world that we have," he said. "It's truly amazing."
Sharma, who doesn't come from a military family, has bitten off a big job.
According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, 558,000 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II were still alive in 2017.
But the youngest of them are in their late eighties, and some are more than 100 years old. The VA estimates an average of 362 of them die each day.
Sharma was a sophomore in high school when he began what he calls his "mission." He heard about a decorated veteran, Lyle Bouck, whose tiny unit had held off a much larger German battalion during the Battle of the Bulge.
Sharma tracked Bouck down and interviewed him.
Then he took it a step further.
He began biking to retirement homes to get to know the veterans in his community. Sometimes it was as simple as showing up and asking to speak to them. Many aging veterans don't get many visitors and are eager to share their stories, he said.
Sharma records the interviews on video and burns them to DVDs, which he gives to the veterans. Some of them want to make their stories public, while others prefer to keep them within their family to help their descendants understand what they went through on the battlefield.
He also has begun posting the interviews to his YouTube channel.
The stories are powerful, told with emotion by men who seem to recall them vividly.
Among the hundreds of men Sharma has interviewed was Don Pullen, whose unit was attached to the Air Force. Pullen recounted a story about befriending a family in Velten, Germany. The father was beaten to death by German soldiers who were trying to get information out of him. The soldiers also whipped the daughter.
Pullen says the daughter showed him and another American soldier the welts on her back where the Germans had whipped her.
"That was the most godawful thing we've ever had to witness ... what happened when the Germans beat those people," he said.
Sharma also has talked to many veterans about their struggles after the war.
In another video, Joseph Diamond, a combat medic, recounted the difficulties he faced upon his return home.
"The nightmares were there," he said, "and you couldn't go to sleep at night without fighting the war all over again."
To further his mission, Sharma in 2016 founded Heroes of the Second World War, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving interviews with WWII combat veterans for future generations.
That same year he also set up a GoFundMe account to fund his efforts. So far he's raised more than $181,000, which helps pay for his travel expenses and video equipment.
This has become Sharma's full-time job.
He got a boost in late 2016 when CBS News did a story on his work. After it aired, he received thousands of emails suggesting new veterans to interview.
One of the biggest obstacles that Sharma faces when traveling is the fact that his tender age prohibits him from renting cars or checking into many hotels unaccompanied.
"I live out of the car when I'm on the road," he told CNN. "(It) makes my job a lot harder."
Sharma likes to say that he doesn't need to go searching for celebrities -- there are plenty of real-life heroes just a phone call away.
He stays in contact with many of the men he's interviewed and counts them among his best friends.
Sharma also knows he can't do it all himself. He encourages anyone who is interested in his work to reach out to WWII veterans in their areas and document their stories.
"We don't need to use iPhones to take selfies," he said. "We can actually document history with them."
After four years, Sharma's passion for his work doesn't appear to be waning anytime soon.
"I was in Canada until this morning and now I have some interviews (in) San Diego, and I'm going to Texas and then Oklahoma," he said Monday. "I'll go wherever the World War II combat veterans are."
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The American Legion, Department of Indiana had a successful 2018 Joint Spring Conference April 6 - 8 at the Marriott East Hotel in Indianapolis. Much was accomplished and the general session featured lead candidate for national commander Brett Reistad, a presentation by the Children's Transplant Association, and our Children & Youth presentations of awards and scholarships. Check out and share the photos below.
WTHR - Channel 13 Indianapolis
INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - The Indiana Military Veterans Hall of Fame is now open in Lawrence.
It's the only memorial of its kind in the United States.
The American Legion helped make this Hall of fame possible by donating the land where it was built.
The hall of fame honors Indiana's own veterans.
There have been nominations from all over the state for veterans who served in World War II to the current war on terror.
"This hall of fame will stand as a reminder to all Hoosiers that we must always remember those sacrifices," said Marty Dzieglowicz, The American Legion Department of Indiana Commander
When you visit, you'll notice engraved bricks at the entrance.
You can buy one in honor of your loved one for $100.
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By Betsy Klein, Barbara Starr and Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN
President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he's calling on the military to guard the US-Mexico border until his long-promised border wall is complete.
"I told Mexico, and I respect what they did, I said, look, your laws are very powerful, your laws are very strong. We have very bad laws for our border and we are going to be doing some things, I spoke with (Defense Secretary James) Mattis, we're going to do some things militarily. Until we can have a wall and proper security, we're going to be guarding our border with the military. That's a big step," he said during a luncheon with leaders of the Baltic states.
He continued: "We cannot have people flowing into our country illegally, disappearing, and by the way never showing up for court."
Asked to clarify his comments during a joint news conference, Trump said he is "preparing for the military to secure our border" and he would be attending a meeting on the topic of border security with Mattis and others "in a little while."
Trump has privately floated the idea of funding construction of a border wall with Mexico through the US military budget in conversations with advisers, two sources confirmed to CNN last week. His remarks Tuesday come on the heels of multiple days of hardline immigration rhetoric from the Trump White House, with the President calling on Congress to pass strict border laws in a series of tweets beginning Sunday.
This isn't the first time there's been talk of sending US troops to the border.
Under President George W. Bush, a border deployment of the National Guard known as Operation Jump Start started in 2006 and lasted two years. The operation sent more than 6,000 troops to California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas to repair secondary border fence, construct nearly 1,000 metal barriers and fly border protection agents by helicopter to intercept immigrants trying to enter illegally.
In 2010, the Obama administration deployed National Guard troops as part of a border protection plan.
Officials in 2010 said up to 1,200 National Guard troops would be in place along the US-Mexico border for up to a year to assist US Customs and Border Protection with surveillance and intelligence gathering while the agency worked to hire additional staff.
And in 2014, as a surge of unaccompanied minors from Central America crossed into the United States, Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced the activation of up to 1,000 National Guard troops to help secure the southern border.
Still, Trump's statement took many Pentagon officials by surprise Tuesday, in that they know of his desire to ratchet up border security, but are not sure what he meant exactly, according to multiple Defense Department and military officials.
To fulfill his wishes, border states could send National Guard activated by their own state governors, an issue long complicated by whether the states or the federal government pay for it. Alternatively, the Defense Department could send either active duty or federally activated National Guard. Federal troops require certain documents and regulations, including an operational requirement, a unit identified, a strategy, and, although perhaps not formal, an exit strategy. That option also requires identifying rotational forces.
Trump also spoke Tuesday about the caravan of migrants from Central America currently moving through Mexico who plan to turn themselves in and request asylum once they make it to the US border. He has demanded a halt to the caravan in a series of tweets.
"If it reaches our border, our laws are so weak and so pathetic -- you (the Baltic leaders) would not understand this 'cause I know your laws are strong at the border -- it's like we have no border," he said.
Trump said he told Mexico "very strongly" that "you're going to have to do something about these caravans."
While he said the US is renegotiating the NAFTA trade deal with Mexico and Canada, he emphasized that border security would have to be part of the deal.
CNN's Jeremy Diamond and Maegan Vazquez contributed to this report.
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By: Michelle Tan - Military Times
The Department of Defense on Saturday released the name of a soldier who was killed in an improvised explosive device attack in Syria.
Master Sgt. Jonathan Dunbar, 36, of Austin, Texas, was deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. He died from his wounds Thursday in Manbij, Syria, when an IED detonated near his patrol.
Another coalition service member was killed and five others were wounded in the incident.
The incident is under investigation.
Dunbar was assigned to Headquarters, U.S. Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
According to information from USASOC, Dunbar first entered the Army as an infantryman in May 2005.
His first assignment was with 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment at Fort Bragg. During his tenure, he deployed once to Afghanistan and once to Iraq in support of combat operations.
In November 2009, Dunbar transitioned to 2nd Squadron, 38th Cavalry Regiment (Long Range Surveillance) at Fort Hood, Texas, where he served for four years as a squad leader.
During his time at Fort Hood, Dunbar deployed to Iraq again in support of combat operations.
In 2013, Dunbar was assigned to USASOC, where he served as a team member and deployed three times in support of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Dunbar’s awards and decorations include the Bronze Star Medal (third award), the Army Commendation Medal (fourth award), the Army Achievement Medal (sixth award), the Afghanistan Campaign Medal with 2 Bronze Service Stars, the Iraq Campaign Medal with 2 Bronze Service Stars, the Ranger Tab, the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Expert Infantryman Badge, the Pathfinder Badge, the Military Freefall Jumpmaster Badge, and the Parachutist Badge.
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By MELANIE ZAYAS - Fox 44 News
The American Legion honored first responders today. The Boonville law enforcement gathered for a special ceremony in honor of their hard work throughout the year. Three special honorees from the fire, police and EMS departments were chosen for those awards. The chairman of the event, Ron Byrley says, “They’re picked by their peers. For outstanding devotion to our community and for their work in general you know this is something that we take great pride in doing. You know these people put their lives on the line for us on a daily basis and we’re proud to honor them.”
In light of the recent off duty officer involved shooting that took place in Hopkinsville, a very solemn tone took over the crowd this evening. Boonville Lieutenant Mark Hadley says, “It’s heartbreaking when an officer is involved in something like that. We are like a family and since we have stressors that those people may not be able to identify with well we can. So our hearts go out to that family of that officer.” Byrley says honorary nights like these are made for those in law enforcement who continue to dedicate and sacrifice their lives on a daily basis. He says, “It’s not only the police officers, the firemen these EMT’s, you never know what kind of situation they’re going into. Anybody that harms these people we have a special place for them.”
For the Boonville law enforcement, their focus is on moving forward and staying alert of what could be imminent danger. Hadley, “You really have to be cognizant of your surroundings at all times. When you really never did before the whole dynamics of even small town policing has changed in the recent past year.”
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By David J. Shulkin - (OP-ED Written for the New York Times)
It has been my greatest professional honor to serve our country’s more than 20 million veterans. Almost three years ago, I left my private sector job running hospitals and came to Washington to repay my gratitude to the men and women who put their lives on the line for our country.
I believe strongly in the mission of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and nothing about my political experience in Washington could ever change that. I also believe that maintaining a strong V.A. is an essential piece of the puzzle that is the United States’ national security system: We can only expect our sons and daughters to risk their lives and fight for our freedom if we can keep our promise to care for them when they return home broken, injured or traumatized. There is no excuse for not holding up our end of the bargain. The mission set forth by President Abraham Lincoln to care for those who have “borne the battle” is a sacred duty that I will remain committed to always.
During my tenure at the department, we have accomplished a tremendous amount. We passed critical legislation that improved the appeals process for veterans seeking disability benefits, enacted a new G.I. Bill and helped ensure that we employ the right people to work at the department. We have expanded access to health care by reducing wait times, increasing productivity and working more closely with the private sector. We have put in place more and better mental health services for those suffering from the invisible wounds of war. We are now processing more disability claims and appeals than ever before and, for the first time, allowing veterans to see the status of their appeals by simply logging on to their accounts. Unemployment among veterans is near its lowest level in years, at 3.5 percent, and the percent of veterans who have regained trust in V.A. services has risen to 70 percent, from 46 percent four years ago.
It seems that these successes within the department have intensified the ambitions of people who want to put V.A. health care in the hands of the private sector. I believe differences in philosophy deserve robust debate, and solutions should be determined based on the merits of the arguments. The advocates within the administration for privatizing V.A. health services, however, reject this approach. They saw me as an obstacle to privatization who had to be removed. That is because I am convinced that privatization is a political issue aimed at rewarding select people and companies with profits, even if it undermines care for veterans.
Until the past few months, veteran issues were dealt with in a largely bipartisan way. (My 100-0 Senate confirmation was perhaps the best evidence that the V.A. has been the exception to Washington’s political polarization.) Unfortunately, the department has become entangled in a brutal power struggle, with some political appointees choosing to promote their agendas instead of what’s best for veterans. These individuals, who seek to privatize veteran health care as an alternative to government-run V.A. care, unfortunately fail to engage in realistic plans regarding who will care for the more than 9 million veterans who rely on the department for life-sustaining care.
The private sector, already struggling to provide adequate access to care in many communities, is ill-prepared to handle the number and complexity of patients that would come from closing or downsizing V.A. hospitals and clinics, particularly when it involves the mental health needs of people scarred by the horrors of war. Working with community providers to adequately ensure that veterans’ needs are met is a good practice. But privatization leading to the dismantling of the department’s extensive health care system is a terrible idea. The department’s understanding of service-related health problems, its groundbreaking research and its special ability to work with military veterans cannot be easily replicated in the private sector.
I have fought to stand up for this great department and all that it embodies. In recent months, though, the environment in Washington has turned so toxic, chaotic, disrespectful and subversive that it became impossible for me to accomplish the important work that our veterans need and deserve. I can assure you that I will continue to speak out against those who seek to harm the V.A. by putting their personal agendas in front of the well-being of our veterans.
As many of you know, I am a physician, not a politician. I came to government with an understanding that Washington can be ugly, but I assumed that I could avoid all of the ugliness by staying true to my values. I have been falsely accused of things by people who wanted me out of the way. But despite these politically based attacks on me and my family’s character, I am proud of my record and know that I acted with the utmost integrity. Unfortunately, none of that mattered.
As I prepare to leave government, I am struck by a recurring thought: It should not be this hard to serve your country.
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