Historical Society honors veterans' oral history

Free dinner for veterans from 4 to 7 p.m. on Nov. 11 at the American Legion hall

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By Tom Holmes

When Nancy Cavaretta moved to Forest Park five years ago, she felt called to "do something really significant for the community." Joining the Historical Society of Forest Park, plus the fact that her son has been in the Navy for 10 years, motivated her to begin a project a year or so ago with veterans living in town.

"My oldest son is a career Navy guy, and I've gotten really close to my daughter-in-law during his many deployments," Cavaretta said. "It's been really tough at times. The upheaval in many military families is unfathomable."

When Cavaretta started thinking about what form the project should take, she was inspired by the StoryCorps model of recording oral histories. Equipped with a Ph.D. in education and skills in research she found seven Forest Parkers who have served or are still serving in the military.  After interviewing them, she put together "Our Neighbors, Our Heroes," a multimedia presentation that will debut from 4 to 7 p.m. on Nov. 11 at the American Legion hall. Afterwards, it will be presented on the Historical Society website. The seven Forest Park residents featured include:

CLIFFORD LEBER who was drafted in 1965 and served in Viet Nam in an artillery battalion.  He was awarded an Army Commendation Medal Against Hostile Forces, retired from the Forest Park Fire Dept. in 2003 and is proud of his service saying, "I would do it again for my country."

RAPHAEL DAVIS is now a reservist in the National Guard following g a 19 year career in the Army.  He served in two combat situations, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.  He is married to Patricia Salazar, a Marine Corps veteran.

PATRICIA SALAZAR had bad experiences in the Marine Corps.  As a woman deployed into combat [in Kuwait] her judgments were often undermined by male counterparts.  She now is vocal about inequities in the military, speaking out about issues related to women in the military, PTSD and the complexities of adjusting to civilian society after combat.  She is married to Raphael Davis

PAUL ROACH was deployed in Afghanistan is a Navy physician putting what was left of broken bodies back together again. His family has been "with him" emotionally and spiritually during his deployments.  An indication that their experience as a military family has been positive is seen in the fact that one of his daughters is a cadet at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

MIKE MOHR was drafted at the age of 19 and served with the Army's 101st Airborne Division in Viet Nam. He received both a Bronze Star and a Letter of Commendation.  He is outspoken in criticism of the psychological and emotional care which has been lacking for Viet Nam vets.

JOSEPH BYRNES learned to speak Vietnamese in order to do his job of stopping the infiltration of the Viet Cong along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.  He received a Purple Heart and Air Force Commendation medals.  He is a retired FPPD officer and is now a Forest Park commissioner.

DEBRA FUNDERWHITE, U.S. Army Reserves 1982-1988, saw the military as a way to pay for college.  Benefitting from the ROTC program she received a college degree, works as a photographer, and is active in the local American Legion.

Part of Cavaretta's goal in hosting "Our Neighbors, Our Heroes" is to simply give veterans the recognition they deserve through the multimedia presentation and a program book with pictures and summary biographies.

But part of her agenda is to change attitudes in people who have never served their country in the armed forces. She is interested in replacing opinions amplified in social media with facts. "These were ordinary people," she said, "who were compelled to do extraordinary things. The persons I interviewed who served in Vietnam, for example, were all 19 and 20 years old and they made decisions and sacrifices on the battlefield that I don't think most people are aware of."

Now that we don't have a draft, she said, only a very small percentage of Americans have first-hand experiences with the military.

She added that hearing the stories of veterans' courage, sense of duty and respect for authority might help to counteract what she called the "narcissism" and "meanness" prevalent in contemporary society.

Tickets for "Our Neighbors, Our Heroes" cost $25 and can be purchased at forestparkhistory.org. Veterans who show proof of service will be admitted at no cost.  

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