Sidney Maltzman can vividly remember walking into an ambush in Eisenberg Germany.
“It was a trap,” Maltzman said. “We went in unknowing into this open field, the tanks were waiting for us.”
In an instant, the thud and zip of German tank and machine gun fire rained down on soldiers crossing an open field.
“Everyone in front of me got hit, and I said ‘let’s go!’” said Maltzman, a soon to be 88-year-old veteran living in Chesterfield.
Maltzman tossed a smoke grenade, giving him and other troops enough cover to escape with their lives.
Preserving Maltzman's memory of what American soldiers faced while advancing on a German position almost 70 years ago, and the stories of other veterans, is the driving force behind the Missouri Veterans History Project.
“You can’t help but just be amazed and think, ‘how much richer I am to be able to hear those stories and to know what someone else lived through and experienced.’” said Maltzman’s niece, Mo. State Rep. Jill Schupp (D-Creve Coeur).
Schupp is spearheading the project, which collects audio and video of veterans sharing their recollections of military service, preserving them to be cataloged by the State Historical Society of Missouri and the Library of Congress. Even though organizers have strong operations in St. Louis and Columbia, Schupp said there are hurdles, primarily financial, associated with expanding their efforts.
The oral history project previously received an annual budget of $500,000 from the state, but funding fell victim to fiscal belt tightening in 2010. That led Schupp and others to establish a nonprofit in 2011 in order to continue collecting stories, however, a shoestring budget means they rely heavily on volunteers and the organization has around $10,000 in outstanding expenses.
“This volunteer effort really takes a lot of coordination,” Schupp said. “In St. Louis, for example, we have 24 regular, on-going volunteers who are really dedicated to this purpose. It’s really a pretty big undertaking to make a program in a community that’s sustainable, to make sure that all the veterans in that area have the opportunity to have their stories told.”
Schupp said they would like to broaden their activities to include other parts of the state and bring an executive director on board, but it will take a serious infusion of cash before any those plans can materialize. With that in mind, she said organizers are getting ready to make a push for more donations, particularly focusing on the business community.
She said it’s especially critical to collect the stories of World War II veterans before they pass away.
As for her uncle, Maltzman, decades after he was part of the final surge that ended the war with Germany, the memory of battle remains a steady companion.
There’s a pesky piece of shrapnel that remains lodged in his knee and constant burning on the bottom of his feet from frost bite suffered during the Battle of the Bulge. It's the memory of fellow infantry men who didn't make home, though, that still gets him choked up. Maltzman even named his son after his commanding lieutenant, who died in battle.
The notion that his story has been woven together with those of other veterans is a source of great pride.
“I did my part,” Maltzman said. “And many, many others did the same.”
Go here to learn more about the project.
Follow Tim Lloyd on Twitter: @TimSLloyd