Rockland Community College students chronicle veterans' tales

Rockland Community College student Norm Cottrill, 42, interviews Rockland Community College student Norm Cottrill, 42, interviews World War II veteran Charlie Calotta, 86, on Tuesday, to become a part of the video documentary of military veterans in Rockland County. (Jan. 8, 2013) Photo Credit: Sarah Armaghan

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Rockland Community College students -- some of them military veterans themselves -- are doing their part to ensure that the stories of Americans who fought in the military are never forgotten.

The History of Heroes project, started by state Sen. David Carlucci (D-Rockland/Orange), is attempting to capture tales of wars as far back as World War II.

Carlucci, who said about 1,000 veterans die each day, hopes to document as much as possible before the so-called "Greatest Generation" dies out.

"We have a very large population of veterans right here in Hudson Valley," Carlucci said. "The idea is to have this foundation so in the future, we can run with it. If we can get a documentarian, we have that footage and we can turn this into something big."

Student Norm Cottrill, 42, of Chester, is a communications and media arts major and a Persian Gulf War veteran who served in the U.S. Navy from 1989 to 1993.

Cottrill interviewed Charlie Calotta, 86, Tuesday about being selected in the draft and entering World War II.

"These guys are a wealth of knowledge," Cottrill said. "A man I interviewed last week, he was a POW [prisoner of war] ... In order to capture their story, we have to sit down and give them their time and respect."

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Thinking back seven decades, Calotta sat cross-legged Tuesday as he remembered the moment he first heard the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

"I was on my way home from church when I heard the news. I couldn't believe it," he said.

When Calotta turned 18, he was still in high school and living in Brooklyn with his family when he was drafted into the Army.

"That's when I got my notice," he said. "And I was sent off to war."

Calotta spent two years in China, training that country's army on U.S.-issued weaponry, he said.

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"It's a history that's being well-recorded and preserved for the future," Calotta said. "History is always beneficial to the future."

Business student Phil Kral, 29, of Sloatsburg, who served as a sergeant in Iraq in 2008 and 2009, captured the interview on camera.

"We always looked up to these guys. They're our heroes, Kral said. "It's a privilege to talk to them."

About 20 students are working on the project, which started with interviews of World War II veterans -- six so far -- and will continue with veterans of the Korean, Vietnam, Persian Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Interviews will run on the community college's television station and clips also will be posted to Carlucci's website.

"It's like an onion: So many layers are being peeled and so many stories of different people are coming out," said Janice Goldstein, director of the Multi-Media Production Center.

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Calotta hopes the project will catch the eye of lawmakers who may think twice about sending young men off to war.

"Maybe they will see that war is not the first answer."

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