ALBERT LEA, Minn. (KMSP) - There's an effort underway by the Library of Congress to capture stories from aging veterans before it's too late, especially those who served in World War 2.
But once they’re found, some of the veterans cannot remember or clearly articulate their experience. That’s not the case with 94-year-old Russell Paczkowski. The Minnesota man is still witty and sharp. He’s Albert Lea’s oldest known living veteran, and going strong.
What's his secret to healthy living? – “Well I always try to get plenty of sleep,” he says.
He grabbed the attention of the Veterans’ History Project at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.
“My dad has waited his whole life to tell this story. As kids he didn't tell us, or we weren't listening,” daughter Julie Weidner said.
On average, 430 who served in World War 2 are dying each day. So volunteers across the nation are trying to record as many stories possible from these veterans.
Paczkowski was drafted into the navy at 19 years old, and served as a cook and petty officer during World War 2, receiving 11 bronze stars.
“A lot of these men went through hell and high water, and I was lucky I came home alive,” he said.
Paczkowski returned home in 1945, got married, had five children, and worked several factory jobs before retiring.
“His hearing isn't the best, but he reads and keeps up with things,” daughter Margot Paschke said.
But even in retirement, he stays busy. At an assisted living facility, he regularly walks the hallways, and is eager to socialize – “some of that keeps him alive, and keeps the mind alive, to me that's the biggest thing,” sister-in-law Joan Paczkowsi said.
The 94-year-old said he’s ready to share his story with anyone who’ll listen.
The Veterans History Project of the American Folklife Center collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war.