Victoria man embarks on road trip of remembrance to preserve stories of 410 veterans
VICTORIA – If you look at pictures from their past, Eric and his grandfather, Cliff, are always smiling together. "My parents would never let me watch TV," Eric recalls before breaking into a big smile. "But when they'd go out for a walk, me and Grampa would sit on the couch eating ice cream floats and watch TV! We were always really close."
But it wasn't until he asked Cliff to pose for a university photography project that Eric realized there was a major chapter in his grandfather's life that had never really been discussed. The photograph shows a 90-something Cliff, wearing medals on his chest and holding a picture of his younger self in uniform.
"Unfortunately he had dementia at the time," says Eric. "Then he passed away a few months after that. That's when I really thought, 'I wished I'd asked him questions.'"
So, Eric began searching for a way to remedy his regret and decided to start calling local Legions. "[I would say] 'Hey! My name's Eric. I'm 20-something years old. Do you think you may have any Second World War veterans that may want to sit down with me?"
Eric was surprised to find his invitation was accepted not just once, but over and over again. First across Victoria, then Vancouver.
Eric started recording his 2-3 hour conversations on video, persevering stories that many of the veterans had never told before.
"They are so humble and they say, 'Oh, I didn't do much'," Eric explains. "But you hear their story and it's like, If I ever did that it would be the highlight of my life."
Word spread about Eric's conversations and he started recording veterans across British Columbia. But, Eric was also hearing from the families of the people he recorded that they were later dying.
"There was an urgency here," Eric says. So he decided to quit his job, and used his savings to fund a coast-to-coast road trip of remembrance. "Timbuktu's not here, but if it was I went there," Eric says of his 13-month journey from Victoria to St John's and everywhere in between. "I pretty much did a veteran a day."
He shared their videos, stories, and photographs on his website, ericbruntmedia.com.
After listening to the stories of 410 men and woman in Canada, Eric followed some of them to Normandy to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
He says the experience inspired him to "wave the flag higher than before", to take the time to appreciate the sunrise, and to feel grateful – despite the 70-something year age gap – for his wonderful new friends.
"They're definitely my friends!" Eric beams. "I still talk to them on the phone."
Now, Eric is in the process of editing his friends' conversations into a full-length documentary called, 'Last Ones Standing.' If he can find funding, he's hoping to complete it next year for the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.
Next to Eric's computer is a framed photograph of his grandfather in uniform.
"I wish I could sit down and have a beer with my Grampa and thank him for his service because I don't think I ever did that," Eric says. "But providing this experience to other veterans, I'm doing a bit of justice to his generation, if not himself."