Local Veterans Share Their Experiences in SOPTV’s “My Story of Service”
The Other 1 Percent
In September 2012, approximately 25.2 million veterans were living in the United States. Oregon.gov estimates that over 30,000 live in Jackson and Josephine Counties. Southern Oregon seems to be rich in veterans—and those who support them. Southern Oregon Public Television launched a show on June 8 dedicated to veterans sharing their experiences while on duty for the U.S. called My Story of Service, which was the first SOPTV show ever to be completely funded by locals and local businesses. Talk about rallying the troops.
Each half-hour episode features interviews with one to two veterans from their service during WWII to Iraq. Eight installments have been filmed and will be shown on Mondays at 9 pm on channel 8.1. The whole season will be repeated once, showing at the same time, with the last one on September 21.
Jeff LeBeau, SOPTV’s production manager and the producer of the show says that they are already at work on a second season, which should feature double the number of shows.
“The stars aligned,” LeBeau says, about the making of this show. “After Ken Burns released a show about WWII in 2006, SOPTV received a national grant intended for smaller stations to interview about five to ten local WWII veterans, which went over very well. Then about a year ago, we were talking about the need to provide more local content and local service. We don’t just want to be a pass-through for PBS. How do we become relevant and valuable to the region’s viewers? This show rapidly moved up in the discussions, and we thought, ‘We have a big population of veterans, and most of the men and women we had interviewed in 2006 had passed since. With most of them gone, I thought, thank goodness we got to see their stories,’” says LeBeau.
The show launched on June 8 with the stories of Jon Roeder of Medford, who served in the Army during Desert Storm where he was a part of the first tanker division that went into Iraq and Paul Hanson of Klamath Falls, who served in the Air Force during Vietnam with a K-9 partner. June 15th’s episode interviewed Frank Hernandez and Ed Hawkins of Medford, who served in the Army and the Navy during WWII, Korea and Vietnam. Both of them were captured at different times, but they lived to tell about it. On June 22, Carl Miller of Medford (Navy, WWII) and Steve Harper of Klamath Falls (Navy, Vietnam) both share gripping stories ranging from a Kamikaze attack to fighting a battle in the air.
In watching the accounts of these men in their own words, facing the camera straight on with a solid black backdrop, it is clear that they are normal people that lived through the horrible experience of war while others did not make it back to tell their stories.
LeBeau says that he was most struck by the camaraderie of the men he met through filming the series.
“There seems to be a common thread,” he says. “Most didn’t go into the service because they had a big call to serve their country; a lot of them joined because school wasn’t working out or they didn’t like home. But they came back instilled with the desire and the drive to continue to serve. I don’t know if that was created because of the service, but there is such a bond between them. It isn’t service to their country; it is the brother beside them.”
Another realization for LeBeau was the difficulty veterans face not only overseas, but after they come back home. Not only challenges with their families and friends, with society in general.
“There was a time in the 1960s when every family had a veteran, but now only 1 to 2 percent of families have a veteran in them. We just don’t have the direct access to veterans that we used to have. For most families, ‘We are at war’ doesn’t mean anything anymore,” says LeBeau.
The transition can often strip a veteran’s life completely.
“Thirty percent of the homeless are veterans,” says LeBeau. “What?! Why is that?! Many are walking around with burdens from serving.”
To help in that realm, SOPTV is working with local veterans support groups to create content to help educate people about veterans and how they can assist them.
“People say, ‘Support Your Veterans,’ but it is just words,” says LeBeau. “They still need so much help when they get home.”
A hole in the coverage of the show, LeBeau says, is that he has only interviewed men so far. According to Veteran’s Affairs, women make up six percent of veterans, a number that has increased in recent years.
“Women have been more hesitant,” he says. “I really want to talk to women who have served to ask, does being a veteran affect their lives as much as it seems to affect men’s? Do they just go back to being mothers and wives and that part of their life is just done?”
Veterans interested in getting more information about how to be involved with the show can call SOPTV at 541-779-0808.
SOPTV: “My Story of Service”
9 pm, Mondays, through September 21
TV Channel 8.1 or at soptv.org/my-story-of-service/