To truly understand the experience of veterans: this is the goal of Nicholas Cathers’ Eagle Award Project.
“People don’t really know how war was and how war is. We watch the news and have our own commentary, but we don’t really ever get to talk to soldiers. People don’t know how things actually are on an actual human level, and I think it’s something that should be available,” said Cathers. Another inspiration behind the project is the fact that Cathers’ own recently-passed grandfather was a veteran of the US Army, who fought in the Pacific during World War II.
For his final project as a Boy Scout, Cathers will interview about 50 veterans this month, to be entered into the Library of Congress’ archive. The project is sponsored by the Nathanial Blanchard American Legion Post in Delmar and through the Veterans of Foreign War non-profit organization.
As many veterans find it difficult to open up about their experiences, and only find the courage to do so after years of silence, the interviews Cathers holds have an open-ended format, allowing veterans to tell their war stories in their time, in their own voice.
Questions include when and where the veteran served, what they did, what kind of the people they met, what kind of operations they were apart of and how they ended up getting home.
The interviews Cathers holds will be available at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., at the Nathanial Blanchard American Legion Post and at the Bethlehem Public Library.
Interviews are held in private rooms at the Nathanial Blanchard American Legion Post in front of an American flag background. Cathers’ troop-mates help him record the interviews, while another writes down their responses for the Library of Congress’ archive. Boy Scouts of all ages have been helping, as well as other Eagle Scouts, who each have their own Eagle Award Project to work on.
Through either personal connections or through the Nathanial Blanchard American Legion Post in Delmar, Cathers plans to get in contact with veterans in the coming month to hold video-recorded interviews with these veterans.
One such interview has already been held with Wayne P. Jackson, the Sergeant at Arms for the New York State Assembly. Jackson is a close friend of the Cathers family, and was thus an easy first choice for the Boy Scout.
Jackson is a US Army veteran, who fought during the War in Vietnam. After being injured in combat by a land mine, Jackson returned home to an entirely different culture than the one he left. “He had some unfortunate stories about how veterans were perceived after coming back from Vietnam,” said Cathers. “They were called baby killers, all sort of really awful things. What the American public did to those veterans is really awful.”
Though Jackson’s family was supportive of him upon his return, the majority of Americans at that time were not. As such, he had a difficult time reintegrating into life outside of the army. On top of the pain he was still feeling from his war injuries, according to Cathers, Jackson was under a lot of torment from a society that did not support him.
Cather’s interview with Jackson is the first of many he hopes to have this month. Cathers is still looking for interviewees. Interested veterans should contact him through the American Legion Post.
Veterans interested in being interviewed should contact the Nathaniel Blanchard American Legion Post at 439-9819.