The sixth-former from Lynchburg is interviewing World War Two veterans around the world to understand how the war shaped their lives.
Sixth former Carson Becker has long been interested in history, but it was an article about a World War Two veteran in his hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia that inspired a project that has now taken him across the country and around the world.
After reading that profile of a local veteran, Carson decided to start interviewing other survivors of World War Two. He reached out to a few in Virginia and last spring interviewed a pilot in nearby Woodstock, Virginia who is one of just 100 surviving members of the OSS, the wartime spy network that grew into the Central Intelligence Agency. The pilot, John Billings, participated in the daring mission behind Nazi lines that became the basis of the Quentin Tarantino movie Inglourious Basterds. Billings and other members of the OSS are recipients of the Congressional Gold Medal.
A few months ago Carson interviewed Charles Coolidge, one of just four surviving medal of honor recipients from World War Two. He’s since interviewed two more medal of honor recipients and other notable veterans such as retired Sen. Bob Dole, who served as Senate majority leader.
“These interviews got me interested in doing a book on extraordinary individuals and how World War Two shaped these men and what they did with their life,” Carson said.
Carson took this work to the next level last summer when he flew to Japan and spent three weeks interviewing Japanese veterans of the war and visiting historic sights. The trip was the product of six months of research and preparation.
One of the men he interviewed was Mitsunari Tanaka, a Kamikaze pilot who survived the war only because his mission was rescheduled at the last minute and his plane then destroyed that night in an American raid.
“Another man I spoke with was a captain who commanded 150 men,” Carson said. “He talked with me about the Japanese code of honor for officers. The sense of obligation he felt to his men and to the emperor was very similar to what our medal of honor winners said they felt to the United States.”
Carson has now completed twenty interviews, with plans to tackle another five this spring and summer. This spring he plans to work on his book with English teacher Ted Blain and hopes to eventually publish the book next year.
“I’ve built some close friendships with these veterans during the course of my research, Carson said. “It’s especially hard to believe the Japanese veterans were willing to work with me. I developed a real bond with them in my interviews, even though we don’t speak the same language.”
You can learn more about Carson’s project and support his work on his website.
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