Rishi Sharma's 'Heroes of the Second World War' project continues with stop in River Valley
Each day the number of surviving World War II veterans drops, but Rishi Sharma of Augora Hills, California has made it his goal to preserve the memory and stories of these veterans.
The stories and experiences of World War II veterans have been collected and preserved by Sharma and his "Heroes of The Second World War" project. Sharma spent June 21 speaking to Van Buren native William "Bill" Orme about his experiences in World War II.
Sharma began "Heroes of the Second World War" when he was in high school, and now as a 23-year-old, he has interviewed around 1,100 World War II veterans from around the world.
The number of veterans interviewed grows every single day as Sharma travels the country. Sharma has traveled through 45 states, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand.
"The purpose is to preserve these stories so that future generations can understand the price that has been paid with blood and sacrifice for our comfortable existence," Sharma said.
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His goal is to continue interviewing veterans every single day until the last one has died.
When Sharma came to the Fort Smith he met with World War II veteran William "Bill" Orme at Butterfield Place. Orme was part of the 29th Division's 175th Regiment. During D-Day, he was donating blood for troops that were on the front lines of Normandy. But soon after, Orme himself would go to those same beaches.
"He came as a replacement about 15 days later, and he saw a lot of action. He was wounded, shot in the shoulder," Sharma said. "He went through hell at a young age, so people like us wouldn't have to."
Soon after Sharma graduated high school, CBS discovered his project and did a story on him. From that point, he was able to get enough funding and donations, around $200,000, to spend his time on the road interviewing veterans.
"I haven't been home in over four years, I've just been doing interviews," Sharma said.
He has also been featured in The New York Times and The Associated Press.
When the interview is complete, Sharma will give a video copy of the full interview to the family of the veteran. A copy is also donated to the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C.
Legends of WWII is a Youtube channel run by Sharma that collects all of his interviews for the public.
16 million Americans served in World War II and as of 2020, there were about 325,500 of them still alive. The youngest of these are only 95 years old. According to the National World War II Museum, around 256 of them die each day. In Arkansas, 2,890 were still living as of 2020.
It is estimated that by the 2030s all World War II veterans will have died.
"The people who are dying at the highest rate are the Vietnam veterans," Sharma said. "The World War II veterans are living the longest because they've always had active lifestyles. They're just strong people, mentally, to survive the worst war in the history of humanity."
Sharma remembered past interviews that he had conducted. One interview that stuck out to him was a man who lost both of his legs at age 19. He had been in combat only a few weeks.
"His family said he never complained a day in his life," Sharma said.
According to Sharma, this veteran went to work for Veteran's Affairs for 37 years and made prosthetics for soldiers that suffered the same fate as him.
Sharma will return to Van Buren in the future to interview more veterans. He can be contacted through his website heroesofthesecondworldwar.org or at (202) 315-8743 if you know a World War II veteran who would like to be interviewed.