Scout collects, makes history

Teen assembles war stories through veterans project

August 26, 2007|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,special to the sun

Tim Mantegna dreamed of making Eagle Scout for more than a decade. So when the time came to pick a topic for the culmination of the program - the leadership project - the 17-year-old Fallston resident wanted to do something people would remember.

The parameters for making his selection were simple: The project had to be something that no one in his troop had done, make a lasting impact and involve history.

"I'm a history buff ... ," Mantegna said. "Most of the time Scouts do landscaping or build outdoor classes, clear paths or plant trees. I wanted something extraordinary."

Mantegna chose to do an audiotape compilation of war veterans' stories through a program at the Library of Congress. After working on the project for about year, Mantegna delivered 15 tapes filled with interviews of local veterans to the library in Washington on Thursday.

The library's program - called the Veterans History Project - includes accounts that are documented with audio- or video-taped interviews, memoirs, letters, postcards, photographs, drawings and scrapbooks. Mantegna led 27 friends and family members in gathering and compiling first-person accounts of participants in conflicts from World War I to Iraq.

Mantegna is one of 36 Scouts nationwide who have completed projects through the library's program during the last two years, said Tim Schurtter, the program officer for the Veterans History Project.

"As more kids learn about the project, they want to participate," said Schurtter, the liaison for youth and school participants. "Through this program, kids learn history through first-person accounts, and they gain respect for other generations."

And although Mantegna - a member of Troop 801, in Fallston - joins about 320 to 360 boys who will earn Eagle Scout badges this year in the Baltimore area, his project is unique, said Bill Hamlin, a field director for the Boy Scouts of America's Baltimore Area Council.

"Most of the Scouts build trails, build bridges, build mechanical horses that are used by disabled people, or they make bluebird boxes, or something related to nature," Hamlin said. "I don't know of anyone else who has done the Veterans History Project, for their Scout leadership project."

Michael Geiger, scoutmaster of Troop 801, admires Mantegna's project because it lives up to the spirit of the program.

"The Eagle Scout leadership project is supposed to be something that allows the Scout to give something back to the community," Geiger said. "And most children tend to get, not give. Tim thought outside the box."

The project was a natural fit for Mantegna. For years he gobbled up history books, watched The History Channel and collected military artifacts. His collection includes his grandfather's Army helmet from the Korean War, a magazine of .50-caliber rounds and a Swiss military field phone, he said.

"I actually use the phone," he said. "I can send Morse code ... although I only know `S.O.S.' When I call my friends and they hear the beeps, they get annoyed with me."

He used those same friends for his project. He lined up 14 youth and 13 adult volunteers to interview 15 veterans, he said.

Mantegna created a list of questions, raised about $100 to pay for materials, set a timetable and arranged interviews.

After about a year of planning, his staff and the veterans met at the Fallston library and spent two days interviewing veterans and recording the sessions.

Mantegna dropped in on each interview to monitor progress. He learned some distinct differences between the true accounts of the war and movies, he said.

"No one had anything bad to say," Mantegna said. "In the movies, everyone hates the officers, and in the interviews that wasn't the case."

The subject matter of the interviews ranged from the mundane, to the horrific, to the extraordinary. But all helped shed light on life for the soldiers during military conflicts.

"No matter what, these are stories you can't find in a history book," Schurtter said.

"These are stories that are told by a grandfather, a neighbor or the old man down the street no one ever pays attention to, that landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day."

One example from Mantega's interviews was that of Orville Hughes, a retired Army colonel who gave an account of being injured and captured by German forces during World War II.

Hughes' platoon intended to capture Oeffeld, a German farm village, he said.

The Germans fired on them, and the armored car he was traveling in was hit and caught fire. He and the others abandoned the vehicle and ran for cover.

"When the firing stopped, I was taken prisoner by German forces," said the Monkton resident, who sustained several shrapnel and gunshot wounds. "I was treated in a local hospital, and three weeks later I was liberated."

With the tapes delivered, the project is completed but not forgotten, said Mantegna who is attending the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, this fall to study political science.

"The project was a lot of fun," he said. "I hope that my tapes will be used by people who want to know what really happened, from people who were there."

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