Benjamin Mack-Jackson keeps memories of WWII alive through his WWII Veterans History Project, interviewing the men and women who served.
Benjamin Mack-Jackson is determined not to let the history of World War II fade into the past.
During the last four years, the 17-year-old Clermont resident said he has conducted more than 100 interviews of veterans from the “quickly fading generation" and created a nonprofit organization called the WWII Veterans History Project.
“One day, it just kind of hit me that I could actually talk to people who were there," he said. “Instead of reading about the veterans in books or watching documentaries, I wanted to get out there and ask the questions myself.”
As Veterans Day approached, the teen traveled to Pennsylvania to speak to Penn State University students about his project and displayed a variety of donated memorabilia that includes uniforms, soldier’s dog tags, medals and photos.
On Sunday, he’ll be a guest speaker for a panel hosted by the Enrichment Academy in The Villages.
“They’re stories I’m telling of these heroes’ lives, whether they’re directly from the veterans themselves or from a family member," Mack-Jackson said.
The senior at Lake County Virtual School has traveled along the East Coast for interviews and said there’s a “sense of urgency” to chronicle as many veteran lives as possible.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that out of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, 389,292 are alive as of this year. On average, about 300 WWII vets die every day.
“My main motivational factor for starting the project was that I realize my generation didn’t really understand or have the appreciation they really should for our greatest generation of World War II veterans," Benjamin said. "By preserving their stories and sharing with future generations, it’s my mission to ensure their stories live on.”
Retired Air Force Staff Sgt. Frank Klum, 96, recorded a two-part interview on his role in the Battle of Kasserine Pass in Africa, regarded as the first major clash between American troops and the German army.
“In another 10 years, there won’t be any of us left,” Klum said. The project "means a lot to me and all of us World War II veterans because too much has already been forgotten about the war.”
Benjamin traveled to Normandy this summer for the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion of France. The nonprofit is creating a documentary slated for release next year titled “Normandy Revisited.”
One of the veterans featured in the project caught the attention of the White House earlier this year.
Retired Army Staff Sgt. Irving Locker was recognized by President Donald Trump in February during his State of the Union address. The 95-year-old Villages resident sprang to his feet and shook his raised fist in celebration after hearing Trump call his name.
“It was quite a thrill. I was honored by the president of the United States," he said.