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Five Questions with Mike Farrar, Los Angeles Region American Red Cross & VHP Volunteer

The following is a guest blog post from American Red Cross Long Beach Chapter’s Veterans History Project Director, Mike Farrar in honor of National Volunteer Month.

Tell us about yourself.

Photo of man kneeling and speaking to other man, American flag on the side

Mike Farrar discussing VHP with a veteran. Photo courtesy of Mike Farrar.

My name is Mike Farrar, and I joined the American Red Cross as a volunteer back in 2008 to serve as one of the leads for our Service to the Armed Forces division in the Los Angeles, California region.

I have been involved with the Veterans History Project (VHP) since November of 2010. Although not a veteran myself, I am the brother of two veterans and the father to one veteran. I have a tremendous amount of pride and respect for those who have served our country.  I am grateful that there are programs like VHP because it makes me feel like I am serving in a different way.

How did you get involved with VHP?

I first heard about the Veterans History Project in July of 2009 through a Library of Congress staffer who was briefing the Services to the Armed Forces. At the Red Cross Los Angeles Region’s Long Beach Chapter, we work hard to support our active military and their families. VHP seemed like a great way to give back to our veterans. These veterans gave part of their lives to making sure we continue to have the freedom and rights we all share.  I truly believe in the VHP credo of honoring veterans through sharing their story with future generations.

I received approval to develop the American Red Cross Long Beach Chapter VHP program and recruited about a dozen passionate volunteers. Based off the VHP Field Kit, I set up a training program so that our volunteers understand how to interview veterans and share things that I have learned along the way. Early this April we completed our 574th interview.  It is extremely gratifying to know that all of those individuals will have their experiences preserved in our national Library.

Color photo of interview with lighting

Mike Farrar interviewing LA County Supervisor Don Knabbe. Photo courtesy of Mike Farrar.

Are there specific interviews that have stood out to you?

From a World War II Medal of Honor recipient Walter Ehlers to Marian Benedict who served as Betty Ford’s personal nurse, we have heard hundreds of extraordinary stories.  I often get asked what is your favorite interview? My only answer to that is all of them. Listening to the stories the men and women tell about the full arc of their life: their childhood, their military experiences and how those experiences changed their lives is incredible and makes each one exceptional in their own way.

How has your participation in VHP affected you and those around you?

Black and white portrait of sailor smiling

Danny Tretheway’s enlisted photo. Photo courtesy of Mike Farrar.

The Veterans History Project has influenced my life in many ways. I am proud to share my brothers’ and my son’s experiences. I am equally as proud to share the experiences of veterans I have and I have not yet met. Through conducting these interviews, I have encountered individuals I may never have known.  We’ve laughed, we’ve cried and we’ve connected.

I have had the great honor of speaking at three funerals for veterans that I have interviewed. The families requested a clip of the veteran’s interview so that they could share the magic of that experience with everyone at the funeral. I was very touched that the family appreciated the interview so much, and proud that I could be a part of something so meaningful.

I also noted the deep significance of these videos when my veteran family member, Danny Tretheway passed away. Danny served in the U.S. Navy during Vietnam in a Nuclear Sub. While the interview itself was special to me, it was what happened after the funeral the really stuck out.  After the service, the family and friends gathered at his home to watch the interview.  Even after he had passed away, Danny’s wife, siblings, mother, children, grandchildren and friends were able to hear about Danny’s experiences directly from him.  They learned things that could never be relayed in secondhand stories.

What would you want someone interested in participating in VHP to know?

VHP’s rewarding effects stretch from the veteran, the interviewer and scribe (note taker), the families and friends, documentarians, and even future generations of school students. This project has a way of making you feel proud to participate in capturing a moment in history while also honoring those who have given so much for our nation.  To those considering participation, why not try starting with just one interview? Then you will see the ripple effect their service, their story and your contributions have.

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