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Program developed in Oregon looks to preserve the legacies of World War II veterans

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Every day, 500 World War II veterans die in the United States, and with their deaths, an important piece of the country’s shared history is often lost, as well.

Thanks to a project developed in Oregon called The Mighty Endeavor, though, the legacies of those who saved the world are being saved.

The goal is to create a historical account of every WWII veteran from the state, while also providing an online resource for students, teachers and the general public to be used for years to come.

The project is being sponsored by the organization Veterans’ Legacies. Founder Gary Mortensen said he felt it was important for the nation for the stories of these American soldiers to be preserved.

"It's so important that we preserve this history, and I became alarmed that there really was never a program that has been out there that allowed us to capture this information in a meaningful way,” he explained. “The National Archives has it, but if you send it into the National Archives or the Library of Congress it never comes back.”

Mortensen sees the project as a way that students can become more engaged with the stories of these veterans.

“There was no way to engage students or communities and preserve histories so we can access it.  So, our whole idea here is that this should be a free resource,” he said. “The history has already been bought and paid for, so we should never have to resell this.”

Bob McGraw has seen a lot in his 93 years, including the struggles of World War II. He was recently visited by some Yamhill-Carlton High School students who are now roughly the same age McGraw was when he and a friend enlisted in Washington some 75 years ago.

About a year later after enlisting, McGraw found himself in the heart of Europe, fighting in one of the deadliest battles in American military history - the Battle of the Bulge.

“Fighting for America,” he told the students. “That was very important because they could have come over here and really raised heck."

The students were learning how to effectively document McGraw’s history, with some guidance from a FOX 12 crew, in order to make sure that history is never lost. Their work will be uploaded to the Veterans' Legacies website as part of The Mighty Endeavor.

"When we can activate kids in our communities to actually go out and talk the veterans who live amongst them,” Veterans' Legacies Executive Director Mark Browning said. “And we start to actually build that connection between the Greatest Generation, and frankly, our next greatest generation."

During their interview, the students learned how to ask good questions, as well as McGraw’s straightforward approach to destroying tanks on the battlefield. That kind of genuine interaction between two distant generations lies at the core of the mighty endeavor, conveying the humanity of shared history.

"It's living history. I mean, I can teach them stuff.  They can read it.  Newspaper articles, magazine articles, textbook stuff,” Yamhill Carlton teacher Mark McKinney said. “But to connect with someone who's been there. It's so much stronger."

"Veterans have a legacy as it is, and we just have to carry that,” Yamhill Carlton senior Camden Myrick added. “Especially when they were fighting for our country so we have the life we do now.”

It was a lesson the students today passed with flying colors.

It is estimated that more than 150,000 Oregonians enlisted to serve in World War II, and the goal is to make Oregon the first state in the country to record the history of every single one those veterans.

For now, the group is making great progress is uploading the histories of all U.S. veterans from across the country who served elsewhere. For more information on how to volunteer or contribute, head to TheMightyEndeavor.com.

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