Veterans Heritage Project Hosts Inaugural ‘Saluting Stories of Service’ Event

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Posted By on January 27, 2019
Norris Leamer (left) with Beth Leamer and Jacob Jones looking at photo albums.

A nonprofit that brings generations together to document the stories of veterans is having its inaugural fundraising event on March 9, where it will honor two veterans whose stories stand out.

Veterans Heritage Project works to connect middle school, high school and college students to veterans in a way that captures the stories and experiences veterans had in the armed services. The students document the stories in video and writing, and the videos are submitted to the Veterans History Project at the U.S. Library of Congress. The stories in printed form are then turned into books that are given to the veterans and sold to the public.

The students gain from the life experiences shared by the veterans, develop leadership and writing skills, and participate in a variety of civic engagement projects as part of their volunteer work. Thirty Arizona schools are currently participating in the program statewide.

However, due to funding constraints, there’s currently a list of 38 of schools and 600 hundred veterans waiting to be connected. So, Veterans Heritage Project is hosting its first fundraising event, the “Saluting Stories of Service” Dinner on March 9 at the Hilton Scottsdale Resort and Villas.

“The funds raised by this event will provide the opportunity for more veterans to share their stories and inspire character in youth,” said Michelle DiMuro, Executive Director. “The ability for veterans to verbalize what they did or saw, how it has affected them, and what they have learned over their lives can be healing and lays a foundation for ongoing conversations with family members.” 

Sammy Davis, Jr.

Guest speakers include Medal of Honor Recipient Sammy Davis Jr., nicknamed “The Real Forest Gump.” Less than 24 hours after touching down in Vietnam in 1967, Davis found himself in a fight for his life as Viet Cong swarmed his base. Davis heroically defended his fellow soldiers before paddling an air mattress across the nearby river while under heavy enemy fire in order to rescue three injured soldiers. His actions earned him a Medal of Honor, a ceremony that was immortalized when Tom Hanks’ head was digitally inserted over Davis’ body for the film.

Also at the event, former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley will receive the organization’s Storyteller Award.  Romley was chosen as the first recipient of this award because of his personal military service story and his ongoing commitment to veterans and the Arizona community.

Romley is a distinguished Marine and public servant whose story was captured by Veterans Heritage Project student Patrick Ward in the 2009 edition of Since You Asked™. 

“To this day, whether he knows it or not, Rick still serves as a source of inspiration for me and is a true testament to the spirit of indomitable perseverance,” Ward said.  “His resume reads that he’s a Vietnam veteran, a Purple Heart recipient, and former Maricopa County Attorney, but he’s also a fighter, an advocate, a friend, a patriot, and a role model.  Rick was severely wounded in Vietnam and his road to recovery was long and grueling. Through all of his struggles, his own doubts, and doubts imposed upon him by others, he never gave up, and always powered through for himself, his family and his future.

“The lessons he taught me are the kind of lessons that you can’t learn in the classroom,” Ward said.

The effort was started by teacher Barbara Hatch after seeing how her class reacted to hearing from veterans in person. Their inquisitiveness was piqued after they saw the film “Saving Private Ryan” in 1998, so they reached out to a local Veterans of Foreign Wars post and had some of their members speak to her class. Six years later, Hatch received a grant from Salt River Project to help expand the program, and after continued growth, the nonprofit itself was founded in 2009.

Over the past 15 years, the initiative has captured more than 2,000 veteran stories for the Library of Congress, and its speaker series has reached more than 35,000 Arizona students.

The event will bring together hundreds of students, veterans, educators, and community leaders for a night of big band swing music as they celebrate the men and women that have shared their stories of service and imparted priceless wisdom to the students they work with.

The event is presented by Salt River Project, Sanderson Lincoln, TriWest and Gordon C. James Public Relations. Individual tickets are $250 and a table of 10 is $2,000. To register, donate, or find more information, visit www.veteransheritage.org.  For sponsorship opportunities, contact Michelle DiMuro at 602-218-4036 x 101 or at michelle@veteransheritage.org.

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