Wayne Clarke, coordinator of the oral history program at the New York State Military Museum, is a good listener.
“I get paid to listen to war stories,” Clarke said.
“Many of these stories could be turned into movie scripts,” Clarke said.
The story of World War II bomber pilot Charles P. Evans of Saratoga Springs is a good example.
Evans, now 94, gave his oral history to Clarke at the military museum on Lake Avenue earlier this winter. It was the 2,000th oral history recorded since the program was started nearly 12 years ago.
Evans can remember his first bombing mission at the controls of a B-24 Liberator a day before D-Day over Normandy in 1944.
The 93rd Bombing Group of the 8th Air Force was targeting Nazi artillery along the coast so the Germans couldn’t use it during the troop landings the next day.
Evans told Clarke that the B-24 could take a lot of punishment and still hold together, so he and his 10-man crew could bring the plane back to England after bombing missions over Germany.
He completed 30 missions and many close calls with machine-gun fire from German fighter planes missing him by a matter of inches at one point.
“He made it to captain,” Clarke said. “He did his 30 missions and was on his way back to the states on a troop ship (when the war in Europe ended),” Clarke said.
Evans had a long career flying planes for American Airlines after the war.
World War II veterans are now in their mid 80s to mid 90s. Clarke said that the subjects of many of the earlier oral histories of World War II veterans have passed away.
Most of the oral histories, which are recorded on videotape or CD, have been done by Clarke. Until three years ago, Clarke conducted the histories with Michael Russert.
When Russert retired, his position wasn’t filled for budgetary reasons, so Clarke must ask the questions and videotape the interview at the same time.
In earlier times, Russert and Clarke would travel all over the state conducting the oral histories of World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans.
This is no longer done, again for budgetary reasons.
“They cut back on overnight trips,” Clarke said. “Now it’s as far as I can go in a day and get back home the same day,” Clarke said.
For example, he will soon be going out to Syracuse to do an oral history and drive back the same day.
Oral histories of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have also become part of the program in recent years.
The New York State Veteran Oral History Program is administered by the state Division of Military and Naval Affairs, the same organization that operates the state Military Museum.
Each veteran who desires to participate is asked, as a first step, to complete a questionnaire. The information on this form helps the historians, like Clarke, prepare for the interview.
Clarke said the oral history program has also been aided in recent years by partners, including veterans organizations, colleges, and high schools that conduct and record the oral history and present it to the military museum.
All 2,000 interviews are available to the public and researchers at the Military Museum at 61 Lake Ave.
The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.