US-India Global Review

41 US-INDIA GLOBAL REVIEW JANUARY-MARCH 2018 As Veterans Day approaches Nov. 11, Sharma, who spoke to News India Times from his car on the road to Raleigh, North Carolina, to interview a veteran, is the epitome of how far the Indian-American community has come to embrace the mainstream American narra- tive. He has chalked up more than 750 interviews with those who lived to tell the tale -- of seeing friends and enemies die in the trenches beside them, on battlefields far and wide, then come back home to become husbands, fathers, grandfathers and great grandfa- thers, to take the nation to greater heights, something veteran jour- nalist Tom Brokaw also tracks in his 1998 book, The Greatest Generation. Sharma's project is far more ambitious. He wants to document each of these stories - which according to his estimates, equal the 50,000 living combat veterans out of some 525,000 World War II veterans in the country. Sharma singled out those in the infantry, the foot-soldiers on the frontlines that are the first to become fodder on enemy lines;, and it's obvious why he is attracted to that seg- ment - "When I was little I used to want to be a Marine but when I thought of a Marine, I thought of a man with nothing but a rifle in his hands and the shirt on his back. I have always felt that these men are my heroes and I have always been interested in WWII," he explains on his website heroesoft- "The only reason I am alive today is because of these heroic men. They went in as ordinary boys in extraordinary circumstances which churned them out as men," Sharma adds. It appears he is willing to spend the rest of his days doing exactly what he has been doing since the end of his sophomore year in high school. "Every single day of their lives has been about other people," he told this interviewer. So he could do the same by dedicating his days to them. Born and brought up in Agoura Hills, California, Sharma dismiss- es speculation about why the immense love for this group of combat veterans pulls so greatly at his heartstrings. If anything, he questions why such a question needs to be asked. "It's not something I can eloquent- ly state," he says eloquently, "Ever since I was a kid I've been fasci- nated by World War II, and soon as I discovered they were still among us, I have wanted to talk to them." Few if any teachers in his high school knew about Sharma's pas- sion or his project, he recalls. "I wasn't finding anything beneficial," in the education he was getting at high school, he says, and it did not keep his interest. Which explains why he occasionally cut classes to visit nursing homes to interview combat veterans living in those facilities in Agoura Hills. He continued his search on a wider scale after graduating. His conscience, it appears from his account, would not let him do anything else, and his single- mindedness has not limited, his knowledge. "India had the largest volunteer army and under the British, it fought in the East, Japan, Germany, and in Europe. India played a huge part in the Second World War," Sharma told News India Times when told he was being interviewed for an Indian- American news outlet. He wants others to share the excitement of what to him is a serious venture. At the same time, he sounds disappointed with soci- ety in general, but especially with his own generation, upset by what he sees as a lack of empathy for the millions killed in that war and Americans who lost their lives and those who survived the horrors. Asked what he does in his spare time, any vacations, and about friends his own age, he shoots back - "It never happens that I have a gap of several days. My heroes are World War Two combat veterans and I spend my days with them." "I want to absorb the gravity of their sacrifices and hardships, their knowledge and their wis- dom," he says in a video on his website. "All the younger generations since World War Two are very soft," Sharma opines. And what about his generation? "They seem to be more interested in themselves. People are so obsessed with social media and themselves, and not (about the fact) that people have died for them. It's very upsetting to see people in nursing homes with no one even coming to see them ... and they gave so much," he stops. His website numerous pictures and stories of his interviews with veterans. It is being updated he says. The number of interviews is increasing at a faster pace. Each day, Sharma says he tries to inter- view at least two veterans, each interview taking about 3 to 4 hours. Ninety nine percent of the interviews are in video form. Asked what has stood out from all these interviews, Sharma gives a moving account. "The biggest thing is just how gruesome and