By Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces and Veterans Coordinator, Christopher Ehling
If you’ve been part of the Los Angeles Region Red Cross for any period of time, chances are you’ve seen or heard of Mike Farrar. Whether at a Home Fire Campaign event, Restoring Family Links training, or just passing through the Long Beach Chapter, you’ve no doubt come across the indelible spirit who proudly sports his Red Cross regalia and greets everyone with a welcoming smile. Probably the most notable aspect of his uniform is the lanyard he wears around his neck adorned with commemorative Red Cross pins. One of those pins boasts a prominent white background with a collection of symbols surrounding the Red Cross logo. That is his Veterans History Project pin, and those symbols represent each branch of our Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs. Mike brought the Veterans History Project (VHP) to the Los Angeles Region in 2010 because he believed in its credo: “to ensure that future generations hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war.”
With that guiding principle Mike set out to gather first-hand accounts of military service from anyone who was willing to share his or her story. He interviewed men and women who stormed the beaches of Normandy, combed the jungles of Vietnam, sailed the expanses of the Pacific Ocean, and patched physical and emotional wounds. As with many endeavors the Red Cross embarks upon, it was slow going at the start. But, a cadre of dedicated partners recognized the importance of what Mike was doing and decided to help carry some of his load. In just a short period of time, Mike had secured donations of videography equipment from Long Beach retailers in order to capture the memories of hundreds of veterans of the Greatest Generation, the Vietnam Era, and beyond.
Along the way, Mike deputized Navy veteran George Briney to help with scheduling and the conducting of interviews. He also enlisted the help of longtime Red Crossers, Dee Fuggiasco, Phil Wendel and Karen Wells. And, this year, Mike was able to bring a perpetually selfless donor into the fold, John Revell. Despite the diligence that Mike had poured into the VHP, the program was stuck in the technological trenches when one of the cameras inexplicably stopped working—holding hostage the stories inside. In addition, the only computer available for transferring interviews to DVD was an electronic dinosaur. It consumed about six hours of idle time to complete just one single burn. With a backlog of interviews piling up, John leapt into action and delivered a brand new video camera and laptop to the Long Beach Chapter. This revived the entire program in one fell swoop! He also furnished West LA with a brand new camera suite to augment the Region’s capability to engage a population of veterans that had previously been just out of the VHP’s reach.
This month Mike, George, and the team they spear-head, completed their 500th veteran interview with WWII Buffalo Soldier, Bernd Steintz. While this obviously marks a significant milestone, nobody on the VHP team has a finish line in sight. On the contrary, Mike makes no bones about boasting that this 500th interview is only just the beginning of the VHP!