'Greatest generation': Documentarian in Edmonton desperately seeking WW2 veterans for video project

“I know there has to be other World War Two combat veterans out there”

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Over seven years, documentarian Rishi Sharma has crisscrossed the globe — as far away as New Zealand — to interview former combat soldiers from the Allied armies of the Second World War.

Now 26 and in Edmonton for a few days for interviews, Sharma is hoping to find a couple more combat veterans from the Second World War while he’s in Alberta over the next day or two.

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“I know there has to be other World War Two combat veterans out there,” he said

His documentarian roots began in high school.

“I’d been interviewing veterans locally, riding my bike to a local retirement home, that kind of thing,” he said.

Buoyed by foundation grants and donations, Sharma created a nonprofit organization called Remember World War Two.

His edited videos can be seen on his YouTube channel, which has 135,000 subscribers.

Some videos have gotten millions of hits. His subjects receive DVD copies.

Students at schools and universities tune in by the thousands.

“It gives these veterans the opportunity to live forever, because their great-great-great-great-grandkids are going to get to know not just their name, but the way they look, the way they speak — their whole personality is encapsulated in this testimony.

“While they’re with us, we want to  dote on them as much as we can — it’s very much ‘the greatest generation.’ They’re the moral compass of our society, and we need them at the helm more than ever.”

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These days, his youngest interviewees are a sage 97, but they seldom have issues with their memory, Sharma said.

“I mean, they can’t forget this kind of stuff.”

While many veterans shy from telling their difficult war stories in order to protect their families from hard truths, with Sharma’s encouraging smile, they’re forthcoming, one-on-one.

“They’re not censoring themselves … It ends up being really cathartic because they’ve never shared it for 75 years,” he said.

“It’s almost like they’re trusting you with the sacred memories … It is really humbling.”

War and remembrance

On Thursday, Sharma’s subject was Edmonton area centenarian Lloyd Brown.

Despite a tangle of equipment — overhead mike, camera on a tripod, a laptop — the 100-year-old Brown was unfazed, easily recalling details eight decades old.

The son of an Edmonton butcher, Brown went to war at 19.

After training in Wetaskiwin with the Loyal Edmonton Rifles, he arrived in Italy too late for the battle of Ortona.

Just after the breakout for the Hitler Line — May 23, 1944 — Brown was laying low with eight other soldiers, waiting to see if they’d be sent up the line.

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They weren’t at the front, but the German mortar shells flew overhead.

Battle over for the day, another Canadian soldier came by and said, “Well, it’s just you and me.”

“There was nobody left … they were all killed,” Brown recalled. “I couldn’t believe that I was the only one left.”

Second World War veteran
Documentarian Rishi Sharma poses for a photo alongside Second World War veteran, Lloyd Brown of Sherwood Park, on Thursday, April 25, 2024. Sharma is the host of Remember WWII with Rishi Sharma, a YouTube documentary series that aims to interview “every single WWII veteran.” Photo by Jackie Carmichael /Postmedia

As he was walking the perimeter of a farmhouse they’d cleared, bullets flew.

They realized a German soldier was using a child’s tree house as a sniper’s nest.

“We had nothing to get rid of him with,” Brown recalled.

The Allies radioed for a tank.

The enemy soldier did the same — and a German tank came rumbling up and fired.

A small piece of shrapnel, just a few inches long, sliced deep into Brown’s right arm.

The others applied a tourniquet to keep him from bleeding out, but by the time he got to see the medics, the arm was done for.

After a series of operations over many months, he was sent to convalesce in England, and then eventually, home to Edmonton.

He went back to his pre-war job at a bakery but couldn’t safely manage the bread slicer with just one arm, so he attended trade school to learn bookkeeping and went to work in the office.

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Secrets of longevity

Lloyd Brown is spry at 100, setting a pace to keep up to with his walker.

He only moved into assisted living two years ago.

The secrets of such longevity?

“I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. I don’t gamble,” he said.

He donates as much as he can to charity, although retirement has whittled his donation list from the 32 organizations he once donated to.

The War Amps, for its work with young amputees, are still near to Brown’s heart.

He looks back on 100 years with a sort of contentment.

He married Mary, a pretty nurse from North Battleford, and they raised two children.

Second World War amputee veteran Lloyd Brown
Second World War amputee veteran Lloyd Brown. Photo by File Photo /Postmedia

But as for adversity — say, learning to write with his left hand and not having that familiar right arm over the ensuing decades, Brown draws a firm line between missing a limb and letting its absence stop him.

He drove a standard transmission car for many years.

He had a nice big garden, which he dug literally by hand, not hands.

“I did with one, I did all kinds of things … I might have missed it, yeah, but I didn’t,” Brown said.

Coasting in advanced age

Sharma notes a survey from America’s Veterans Administration concluded that a man who is 94 is more likely to make it to 105 than a man who’s 74 is likely to make it to 85.

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“It’s almost like, once they hit their 90 they’re coasting,” Sharma said.

He personally knows two 105-year-old combat veterans who still ride bicycles.

“I think it’s just because they’re so tough mentally, as well as their faith — very strong faith.”

“This is a generation that grew up with no preservatives, no fast food … they had to walk places. They were in the service and the military and you have to be physically fit to do that, and when they came home … there was no drug culture.

“A lot of the veterans took that pent-up energy and put it into their families and their communities,” Sharma said.

“I’m expecting to do interviews at least for another five years.”

To reach Rishi Sharma, Allied combat veterans can call him at (202)315-8743.

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