Nancy Cavaretta remembers the first time her son returned from Afghanistan, head scarves in tow. She said Lt. Cmdr. Joseph Cavaretta brought the coverings as reminders of why he went overseas: To “lift the veils” and bring independence to local women, he said.

“A lot of people ask me about my son being in the military and expect to hear me say, ‘I’m so nervous, I have anxiety,'” she said. “To be honest, I don’t. I kind of raised my kids to walk at the edge and step out for things that really mattered.”  

Passionate about history and her son’s military involvement — her son works in “intelligence” for the U.S. Navy — Cavaretta has spearheaded “Our Neighbors: Our Heroes,” a project for the Historical Society of Forest Park that records the lived experiences of Forest Park veterans. She conducts hour-long interviews with veterans using the phenomenology method of clustering questions about early military training, combat experiences, return to civilian life, and more. She plans to transform interviews into audio stories that include written transcripts, and then post the final products on the Historical Society’s website. She and the vets will review the stories before posting and alter them as requested. In addition to stories, she is also seeking photos and music from veterans. Those interested in being interviewed should email 

Cavaretta has so far spoken to seven men and women, whose experiences range from physicians to fighters, and who have served in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and more. She believes this project is important because of how Forest Park’s history and civilians’ understanding of military involvement has evolved over time. What is now the Forest Park Mall was once the Amertorp torpedo factory in World War II. Forest Park was so proud of this plant that the village printed vehicle stickers in the shape of torpedoes. Amertorp closed in the 1970s. 

“Our country has evolved into that understanding that there is a separation,” she said. “If you decide you’re not going to support a certain war and our involvement with it in the U.S. that has nothing to do with the people who sacrifice, risk their lives and, at times, even lose their lives in these situations.”  

She said this philosophy diverges from what most thought when veterans returned from Vietnam. One veteran Cavaretta interviewed about returning to the U.S. told her that he remembers applying for a job and telling the manager that he was a veteran who just returned from combat overseas. He said the manager shook his hand and told him he’d call him. As the man walked out of the store, he glanced back and saw the manager throw his resume in the garbage. She said other veterans remember returning from Vietnam, seeing the protests on college campuses and feeling a disconnect between the rioters privileged enough to pursue an education, and those who were drafted. On Memorial Day, she hopes people feel grateful for the freedoms and opportunities available in the U.S. 

“Right now, with the political climate being very difficult, very divisive, being very very confusing, I think we still have those freedoms,” she said. “We’re allowed to think what we want to think without any consequences and act accordingly.”