Monday, September 3, 2007

Court reporters use skills to document veterans' memories

written by: Adam Schrager , Political Reporter

DENVER - As a court reporter, Kirstin O'Malley has seen conflict up close and personally. But what she's doing on her vacation time is introducing her to a different type of conflict, one she feels is absolutely critical to record.

"I think these are incredible men and women who have served our country and they've had amazing experiences," said O'Malley, who is one of a number of Denver Academy of Court Reporting graduates who are using their professional skills to take down the personal stories of America's wartime veterans. "You have to appreciate what they go through in even telling the story, letting us into their private experiences."

The court reporters are participating in the Veterans History Project through the Library of Congress in Washington. The program was established on October 27, 2000 to collect oral histories, letters, diaries and photographs from veterans of World War I, World War II, the Korean, Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars.

On a recent Saturday, O'Malley was recording a different type of deposition. This one was from Vietnam Veteran Charles Cusack.

"My most emotional situation was when a good friend of mine was killed," Cusack said with his wife Virginia and his daughter Ami watching and listening.

As Cusak shared stories of bombing runs under intense fire, the women in his life listened with their mouths open.

"As I started to roll in, they started to shoot at me and the sky was full of anti aircraft fire," he said of one run into North Vietnam. "Black puffs, white puffs, green tracers, pink tracers, red tracers, they were coming all around me.

"Once I released, I started pulling and the napalm smacked the target . . . I lit the afterburners and I didn't stop until I got through the cloud layer at 22,000 feet. I went right straight through that cloud and the forward air controller just kept screaming, 'You got it, you got it, you got it.'"

Over in a nearby room at the academy, Harold Dawe was describing how he earned the bronze star during his time in Korea.

"There were 50 of us who went up (a) hill and defended it against hundreds of Chinese for 12 hours," Dawe told the court reporter assigned to hear his stories from Platoon 635. "They figured that was worthy of some recognition."

For the court reporters, the opportunity to participate was welcomed. Used to being the keeper of legal records, Kirstin O'Malley says the chance to be the keeper of the historical record is a logical extension.

"One of my passions is to take memoirs," said O'Malley, whose husband did three tours of duty in Vietnam. "I feel very honored to take (their stories).

"I've come away with more compassion and understanding for veterans."

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