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Lakeridge student creates oral history of veterans

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO Tom Viggiano

It is pretty easy to tell where Tom Viggiano hopes to spend his future.

The 16-year-old junior at Lakeridge High School is always wearing a greenish t-shirt with the logo 'West Point' on the front.

That is a giveaway that Viggiano one day hopes to march in the ranks of cadets and have a career in the U.S. military.

But Viggiano is already immersed in the American military life. He is doing an audio-visual history of the veterans who have fought in America's wars as part of the oral history project for the Oswego Heritage Council.

'I've always been interested in war history,' Viggiano said, 'whether it's movies, history or video games. But I wanted a more personal view of war. I wanted to talk to the people who have gone through it.'

Viggiano proved to be the right young man in the right place at the right time. He talked about transforming his brainstorm into a school project to his counselor at Lakeridge, then got hooked up to OHC volunteer coordinator Bonnie Trumbull.

From there it was a short step to meet a very enthusiastic Jude Graham, executive director of the OHC, who 'really wanted to get this done.' Graham noted that Viggiano's project would fit right alongside the other oral histories - the Durham family, Herald Campbell, the Headlees - the people who built Lake Oswego.

'These oral histories are a record of the rest of the story,' Graham said. 'Sometimes we don't have the human insight into great historic events like D Day.

'Tom's interaction with the veterans is very interesting. He's talking to some insightful people. It's a little different from what you'll read in textbooks.'

'They have amazing stories,' Viggiano said. 'I've gotten stories from Roland Fisher (a World War II veteran). From General (Tony) McPeak I got a much different perspective because he's a general. He has a much more overall view.

'The best thing is they look back with a lot of patriotism. They were honored to serve their country and they thought they had a really amazing time.'

If Viggiano was strongly considering West Point before he started his project, he is even stronger about it now.

'This has cemented my decision,' he said. 'All the veterans I talked to were interested in my project. Some of them have a lot to share. Others kind of shy away from it. I'm also hoping to get more recent veterans so I can see how war has changed.'

Viggiano is making many people happy with his project. People like his parents.

Mother Jill Viggiano said, 'I am very happy Tom is doing this project! Because he is interested in attending West Point and being part of the military, I wanted him to have real conversations with real soldiers about the effects of war on their lives.

'The men he has interviewed so far had dramatic military experiences. I think Tom is gaining a new respect and insight into what it really means to be at war as well as the deep sense of national pride these men hold.'

When he is finished, Viggiano will have quite a collection. He will be interviewing veterans from now through his senior year.