It made Don Rose sad when he heard that over a thousand American military veterans die every day. It also made him sad that for most of the veterans, their personal stories would never be heard and recorded for history.
Don, a Marine in the Korean War era in the early 1950s, decided to do something about the situation. He would become the “ear” for their stories. He would seek out many of those veterans and interview them. He began working out of his home in Winchester through several organizations: the Library of Congress Veterans History Project, the American Folklife Center, and the national AARP.
Since 2003, Don and his friend, Richard Doughty, have audio and video taped well over a hundred of Kentucky’s oldest servicemen as they shared personal accounts: buddies that were lost, their fears, injuries, and their feeling of homesickness. The history of some of our country’s wars would be preserved for future generations to know and appreciate.
The taped sessions are archived, or kept for people to see, at the Clark County Public Library in Winchester, where tapes can be checked out or viewed on site, and the Morehead State University History Department, which also has the recordings.
Clark County Library director Julie Maruskin is amazed by Don’s project leadership.
“The Library of Congress has collected 25,000 interviews from all 50 states over a period from 2000-2005,” she said. “So, Don has collected nearly half of one percent of the total interviews received from thousands of volunteers nationwide.”
Julie also figures that Don spends about 35 hours for each interview, if preparation and travel time is included.
At Morehead State, Dr. Yvonne Baldwin, chair of the history department, is also grateful for what Rose has done. “I was amazed at his dedication to the cause, but also by his demeanor,” she said. “He simply wants the stories told and wants them to be accessible for future generations.”
Don seldom receives any help with the costs of doing the interviews, but he thinks what he spends is tiny compared to the price paid by America’s veterans. He often wonders about the need to find a better way to solve disputes between nations.
“In my opinion, war is the worst possible way to solve any disagreement. They just ought to let the leaders of two countries fight it out and save all the trouble for everyone else,” he stated, only half kidding.
Despite all of the out-of-pocket expenses, the extra time and the effort Don gives, he has no plans to retire from doing the interviewing, even as he suffered with prostate cancer the last few years. “As long as I have names given to me, I will continue to interview,” he said, spoken like a Marine who knows and accepts his mission.
Don enthusiastically volunteers around the Winchester community in other ways, too. In 2005, he and his wife, Janet, taught seven defensive driving classes for the local AARP, an organization for citizens over the age of fifty. The couple spent an average of twelve hours per class including preparation, transportation, and teaching. Don often can be seen driving senior citizens to important appointments such as meetings as far away as Frankfort. They are also helping get AARP chapters started in other central Kentucky towns.
Don serves faithfully on the Honor Guard as a member of the Marine Corps League in Winchester. He also grows a robust vegetable garden that is shared with his elderly neighbors. Whatever it takes, it seems, is what he’ll do when he knows of another in need.
But the greatest passion for Don Rose will always be the regard he has for America’s military service members who offered such great sacrifice for America and other countries. It still bothers him that many veterans are dying before they tell their stories, and he knows that despite his best efforts and those of others, some of the country’s best accounts of history will be lost.
But for Don Rose, it won’t be because he didn’t do his part.
Steve Flairty is a life-long Kentuckian, a teacher, public speaker and an author of three books, a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and two “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes,” collections of stories about ordinary people who do extraordinary things. He will publish a version of “Everyday Heroes” for kids this summer. This piece is an excerpt from that book. Steve is a correspondent for Kentucky Monthly. His column for KyForward appears weekly. Contact him at email@example.com.