Firm owners honor veterans through the Veterans History Project

By April Weiner

In honor of Veterans Day earlier this month, court reporting firms across the nation gathered to interview veterans about their wartime experiences as part of NCRF’s partnership with the Library of Congress Veterans History Project (VHP).

Two of these firms have become pillars of support for the VHP: Paradigm Reporting in Minneapolis, Minn., and Urlaub, Bowen, & Associates in Chicago, Ill.

Paradigm Reporting hosted its seventh annual VHP Day on Oct. 29, bringing the firm’s total of veterans interviewed up to 39.

“I always say that VHP Day at Paradigm is my favorite day of the year because it makes me so proud on so many levels: I am proud to be an American, I am proud to be honoring U.S. servicemen and women through this project, I am proud to support NCRF by hosting a VHP Day, and I am proud of my team for their volunteerism,” says Jan Ballman, RPR, CMRS, and the owner of Paradigm Reporting. “Each year within Paradigm we field volunteer greeters, hospitality, interviewers, videographers, and court reporters who give freely of their time on a Saturday, and, of course, the court reporters then go beyond that to transcribe. The veterans are always humble and grateful, and we mirror those sentiments by being humbled by their sacrifice and grateful for their service.”

Donna Urlaub, RMR, CRR, of Urlaub, Bowen, & Associates, and her firm first got involved with the VHP four years ago with the Lake County (Illinois) VHP Day held annually on Veterans Day. In addition to participating at Lake County’s event, Urlaub and two of her reporters transcribed interviews at the VHP event held on Purple Heart Day, Aug. 7, at the 2016 NCRA Convention & Expo in Chicago, and she and other reporters conduct other interviews of veterans on their own.

All in all, Urlaub and her staff have transcribed at least 15 veterans’ interviews, but as Urlaub is quick to point out, she and her staff will continue to participate.

“The experience is so gratifying, I’ve been known to say I would pay them to let me attend,” says Urlaub. “From my first time, I was hooked. The ceremony, gratitude, and reverence shown the veterans are quite wonderful. The VHP has become near and dear to me, and I love having the opportunity to remind the court reporting community of the gift we possess; we are the link for these wonderful men and women — who are dying by the hundreds each day — to tell their stories and for them to be memorialized.”

Many veterans have never been asked about their wartime experiences, but are willing to share with those willing to listen.

“There have been numerous occasions in which the veteran told their story here at Paradigm for the very first time,” says Ballman. “Sometimes as they approach the end of their life, they decide it’s time to tell their story, lest it never be told. It’s incredibly moving to be a part of an experience like that — hearing it for the first time along with their family. We always have Kleenex close by, and trust me, they get used!”

One of the veterans interviewed at Paradigm on Oct. 29 was Simon Velasquez. Velasquez’s story of heroism and endurance inspired all those in the room, including Ballman and Karen Kelly Larson, who transcribed his interview.

“His narrative included overcoming racial discrimination while navigating through nine flight schools; flying 27 combat missions with the United States Army Air Forces; being blown out of his plane after it was struck by enemy fire and exploded; parachuting into hostile territory, injured, yet evading the Germans for days before finally being captured; withstanding brutal interrogations and solitary incarceration; enduring wretched conditions as a POW; and, finally, suffering unspeakable hardship and sorrow on a death march through the Bavarian Alps,” Larson wrote in a blog on Paradigm’s website. “I have never been so moved.”

Memories from her first VHP Day have stayed with Urlaub.

“The first year I participated, I had the most wonderful veteran, John. His daughter and granddaughter were there. To this day, I still tell people some of the amusing and heartwarming parts of his story, and his transcript still resides on my hard drive. He landed on Utah Beach and was tasked with uncovering land mines. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and received a Medal of Honor and Purple Heart. Very self-effacing, humble man. After the war, he married his hometown sweetheart. They were married for 52 years, 10 children. After that, he was married to another wonderful woman for 12 years. No children, though! When he said that, we all laughed.”

Urlaub continues to participate at Lake County’s event each year, along with several members of her staff.

“When [the organizer] contacts me, I send out an email to my staff asking for volunteers,” says Urlaub. “I sort of do it with bated breath for fear that too many of them will volunteer and we’ll be short-staffed. On the other hand, it is a court holiday, so we don’t have trials or motions on the calendar. This year there were four of us, which represented about a fourth of our staff. We can never be certain of our calendar, but it always works out.”

Urlaub emphasizes the importance of interviewing veterans now while they still can be interviewed.

“It’s difficult to get the word out and coordinate physically getting the veterans to the courthouse. Many of them are infirm and need a lot of assistance to make this happen,” says Urlaub. “Which is why it finally dawned on me: why not just do this on our own? As wonderful as [the VHP Day] is, and it’s great for the veterans to be honored and revered at this public event, some of them can’t get out, their loved ones are gone. Who’s to say I can’t go to the veteran, have a friend draw out their story, transcribe [it], and submit it? Sadly, I discussed doing this for my brother-in-law’s uncle, who was in failing health, but he passed away shortly after our discussion. I won’t let that happen again.”

Court reporters preserve the record on a daily basis, and the VHP affords them the opportunity to preserve a written record of these veterans’ experiences.

“It’s a wonderfully patriotic thing to use your court reporting skills to capture American history live and then preserve it for all time,” says Ballman. “We’ve had at least 10 of the veterans we’ve reported pass away since, and while that news is always sad, we are glad we captured their story while they were with us, and we know the transcripts and videos that we created will not only live on in the Library of Congress for future generations to view, but they will surely become treasured family keepsakes.”

For more information on interviewing a veteran or hosting a VHP Day, visit NCRA.org/NCRF.

April Weiner is the Foundation Manager for the National Court Reporters Foundation. She can be reached at aweiner@ncra.org. Many people participated in VHP events this month, so we’ve broken this into a multi-part series. Stay tuned for the next one. If you participated in a VHP and would like to share your experience in the JCR Weekly, please email April Weiner at aweiner@ncra.org.