On Day of Listening, veterans share tales

By CRAIG SMITH | The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review | Published: November 24, 2012

As Black Friday shoppers raced to snap up the latest smartphones or big-screen TVs, Felix Cistolo spoke into a microphone to record for posterity his war experiences from more than half a century ago.

"I'm beginning to forget some of that stuff," said Cistolo, 91, of Ellwood City.

His effort was part of the National Day of Listening, started four years ago as a way to preserve the stories of friends, loved ones and members of the community on the day after Thanksgiving as a meaningful alternative to shopping sprees. This year's focus was on veterans.

"These guys are the first drafts of history of that event, that epic," said Kevin Farkas, founder of Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh, who recorded the oral histories of veterans such as Cistolo on Friday at the Sen. John Heinz History Center in the Strip District. "Once they're gone, we lose their stories."

More than 1,000 World War II veterans die each day; for veterans of the war in Korea, the rate is about 475 a day; the rate among Vietnam War veterans is about 300 per day.

Cistolo was drafted in 1942 and assigned to the U.S. Army's 80th Infantry Division, arriving in France on Aug. 4, 1944. He was sent almost immediately into combat at the Falaise Pocket, where the Allies killed 10,000 German troops and trapped another 50,000.

One thing Cistolo said he'll never forget is the early morning hours of Sept. 13, 1944.

His outfit was in St. Genevieve. At 2:30 a.m., artillery shrapnel tore into his right leg. He spent almost three months in a hospital in England and almost lost his leg. He was released in time to rejoin his mates for the Battle of the Bulge, where he suffered frozen feet.

It's never been easier to preserve these stories, said Farkas, 47, of West Mayfield in Beaver County and a Navy veteran. Interviews can be recorded on computers, smartphones and more.

Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Oakland will archive and exhibit the veterans' stories.

"The important thing is to get their memories. ... We need to hear their stories now," said Michael Kraus, the museum's curator.

The museum has some oral histories -- recorded on VHS in the 1980s - in its collection.

Although veterans are in the spotlight this year, National Day of Listening is open to anyone. StoryCorps, a nonprofit that has collected and archived more than 40,000 recordings involving nearly 80,000 people, teamed up with SoundCloud, an online audio platform, to archive thousands of stories from across the country. Their Wall of Listening allows people to record an interview anytime and upload it with a photo at nationaldayoflistening.org.

"Listening is one of the greatest gifts we can give each other," said Dave Isay, founder of StoryCorps.


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