Faced with losing its volunteer coordinator and a move to a new location, the Sacramento chapter of the Veterans History Project has arrived at a crossroads.
The project will be put on hold in Sacramento County until a new coordinator is found.
Since 2003, Gail Hoberman has run the project as part of her service with the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program. She has arranged for about 500 area veterans to participate in the Veterans History Project, a national program that allows retired military personnel to tell the story of their service on video to volunteer interviewers, who send the recordings to the Library of Congress to be archived.
Hoberman said Sacramento County's decision to relocate its office from Marconi Avenue to Power Inn Road has prompted her departure.
Mary Parker, director of the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, said she will be recruiting a new volunteer for the Veterans History Project after the county completes the move July 1.
County spokeswoman Chris Andis said the county needed to free up space at its Marconi Avenue office for more staff. County administrators see the value of the project and want it to continue, she said.
Retired Lt. Col. Doug Cooper, who conducts interviews for the Lincoln chapter, said the program helps many veterans, who normally wouldn't talk about their service, to open up to their children and grandchildren.
Cooper interviewed a Marine who fought in the South Pacific Theater of World War II and sent the recording of the interview to the Marine's son, who didn't fully understand the nature of his father's service.
"And he said, 'I finally figured out after all these years why my dad was the way he was,' " Cooper said.
So far, about 87,000 people have been interviewed for the national Veterans History Project, which was started in 2000, said retired Army Col. Bob Patrick, the director of the project.
About 100 interviews are submitted to the Library of Congress each week, and people from every state in the country have participated.
The project, which has an annual budget of $2.3 million, got its start after Rep. Ron Kind, a congressman from Wisconsin, overheard family members talking about their military service, Patrick said.
"He started hearing his father and his uncle swapping war stories one day, so he got out his camera and starting taking pictures," he said.
Soon after, the project was championed by Chuck Hagel, the current secretary of defense, and gained overwhelming support from Democrats and Republicans.
Retired Tech Sgt. Robert J. Cassinelli, a local Vietnam War veteran, said he never talked about his experiences until he sat down in 2003 to participate.
Cassinelli said he had found it difficult to talk about his military service with his family, and some of his activities had to be remain classified. Cassinelli served in the Air Force from 1961-1981.
He said talking about historical events he witnessed and describing how he was fired upon in Vietnam was a chance for him to tell his children what he went through. "I especially thought it was important for my kids, so my kids could know something about their dad," he said
Cassinelli, whose interview lasted for about an hour, used the time to talk about aspects of his service he'd never discussed before. He used to tell people there was one period of his career he'd like to have back -- the time he spent serving in Vietnam. But after giving an interview to the Veterans History Project, he's come to terms with his service.
"I think that process sort of helped me come around to accept the totality of my 20 years," he said. "I've since come full circle and I'm proud of all my service."
Cassinelli hopes the project will remain active in Sacramento so citizens and leaders of the city can learn from the wartime experiences of its veterans.
"The cost of war isn't just dollars and cents," Cassinelli said. "It's about the impact on the people who go off to war and the people they leave behind."
Volunteers interested in coordinating the Veterans History Project should contact Mary Parker at (916) 875-4242.
Call The Bee's Ben Mullin, (916) 321-1034.