Museum gathers stories from WWII vets in Thousand Oaks

Patrick Stephen interviews Wesley Dochick

A historian at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans recently interviewed a handful of local World War II veterans in an effort to preserve their stories for future generations.

The interviews took place behind closed doors at Belmont Village Senior Living in Thousand Oaks, where Patrick Stephen spent two days getting the stories of five veterans who live in the retirement community.

“It’s not just World War II — they give that perspective of the Depression before the war,” Stephen said. “Then after the war, it was the … 1950s, when America was discovering itself with television and interstates.”

The interviews will become part of the permanent digital collection at the museum.

“These guys worked at jobs 40 and 50 years — these guys stayed in one spot, so the way they looked at life is different,” Stephen noted. “Today, everything is on social media … but nobody knows what these World War II veterans did.”

Many from this generation never spoke about their experiences when they returned home, said Stephen, a resident of New Orleans and an Army captain who served in Bosnia, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Cuba.

“A lot of them just clammed up, so when they get in front of me, they’re still apprehensive,” Stephen said. “Some of them don’t really want to talk. But I tell them I was in the service; I know what it felt like to go to boot camp, go to combat … to go overseas. So they feel better knowing I can relate to them.”

On June 20 and 21, Stephen spent hours privately interviewing and recording five World War II veterans.

He spoke with Sterling Ditchey, 91, who served in the U.S. Air Forces from 1943 to 1945 and was a first lieutenant with the 57th Bomb Wing.

“My war experience turned out to be an adventure — now that’s just because I didn’t get hurt,” Ditchey said. “I met people that I didn’t know, been places that I hadn’t heard about … and also found my wife in the service. Those things were all part of my experience.”

Click here to read the full story by the Ventura County Star.