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Memory Project collecting oral histories of veterans

While some funding for The Memory Project will be ending in March, the work will continue to preserve oral histories of aging veterans for future generations.

In the past year, the project has added more than 350 interviews with Korean War veterans to its online archive and a similar number for Second World War veterans.

While funding from the federal Department of Canadian Heritage will end for the interviews about Second World War experiences, the Historica-Dominion Institute will continue the work, said Alex Herd, project manager for the Memory Project.

Herd noted that while Second World War veterans are often willing to be interviewed, sometimes with the encouragement of their families, it can be more challenging to get Korean War veterans to participate.

That's largely due to the fact that for decades, they were not even considered war veterans.

That war, which took place between 1950 and 1953, was officially deemed a "police action" by then-U.S. President Harry Truman for political and diplomatic reasons, Herd explained. While the veterans experienced war-like conditions, it was not considered a war and afterwards, they didn't receive the same benefits as their counterparts from the Second World War.

It wasn't until after years of lobbying that Korean War veterans were publicly recognized by the federal government as war veterans in the early 1990s.

That's all contributed to a reticence among many such veterans to share their stories, Herd said.

The project "is part of our effort to give them the respect they've been due, to encourage them to come forward and share their stories, to show them they're valued members of society and their stories are valued parts of our history," he said, "and also to educate all Canadians of all generations and backgrounds on what has been a war that's been neglected in our historical instruction at every level in the country."

He noted that people in Korea continue to be very grateful for Canadians' efforts in keeping that country free.

The project has also digitized more than 1,600 artifacts for its archives. They borrow artifacts from veterans they interview and photograph or scan them for inclusion in the online archive before returning them.

Such artifacts include photos, medals, pieces of shrapnel and communist propaganda.

One intriguing piece was a Chinese coin picked up on the battlefield by a Korean War veteran who was eventually wounded and bled on the coin. For some reason, he never cleaned the blood off.

Others came from a Second World War veteran who was in prisoner-of-war camps in Italy and Germany. To pass the time he drew comics to entertain himself and his fellow prisoners, which are now reproduced and in the archives, as is a piece of his ration bread that he received in the camp, which he kept in a bag as a memento all these years.

The Memory Project is still seeking veterans of the Second World War or Korean War to participate. For more information visit www.thememoryproject.com or call 1-866-701-1867.

wchow@burnabynewsleader.com

twitter.com/WandaChow

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