This 20-year-old wants to interview every WWII combat veteran

Ever since he was little, Rishi Sharma has enjoyed learning about the Second World War. Now he’s taken his passion a big step further.

The 20-year-old from Agoura, California, is on a mission, and he’s got a time crunch. He’s trying to interview as many living World War II combat veterans as he can, to document their stories before they are lost forever.

In the past four years he has traveled to 45 states and Canada to interview more than 870 veterans.

But Sharma, who considers these vets his real-life history book, is still looking for more.

He wants to preserve their stories for future generations. And he’s grateful to them for their sacrifice.

“They’ve given us the world that we have,” he said. “It’s truly amazing.”

One vet at a time

Sharma, who doesn’t come from a military family, has bitten off a big job.

According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, 558,000 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II were still alive in 2017.

But the youngest of them are in their late eighties, and some are more than 100 years old. The VA estimates an average of 362 of them die each day.

Sharma was a sophomore in high school when he began what he calls his “mission.” He heard about a decorated veteran, Lyle Bouck, whose tiny unit had held off a much larger German battalion during the Battle of the Bulge.

Sharma tracked Bouck down and interviewed him.

Then he took it a step further.

He began biking to retirement homes to get to know the veterans in his community. Sometimes it was as simple as showing up and asking to speak to them. Many aging veterans don’t get many visitors and are eager to share their stories, he said.

Sharma records the interviews on video and burns them to DVDs, which he gives to the veterans. Some of them want to make their stories public, while others prefer to keep them within their family to help their descendants understand what they went through on the battlefield.

He also has begun posting the interviews to his YouTube channel.

‘Fighting the war all over again’

The stories are powerful, told with emotion by men who seem to recall them vividly.

Among the hundreds of men Sharma has interviewed was Don Pullen, whose unit was attached to the Air Force. Pullen recounted a story about befriending a family in Velten, Germany. The father was beaten to death by German soldiers who were trying to get information out of him. The soldiers also whipped the daughter.

Pullen says the daughter showed him and another American soldier the welts on her back where the Germans had whipped her.

“That was the most godawful thing we’ve ever had to witness … what happened when the Germans beat those people,” he said.

Sharma also has talked to many veterans about their struggles after the war.

In another video, Joseph Diamond, a combat medic, recounted the difficulties he faced upon his return home.

“The nightmares were there,” he said, “and you couldn’t go to sleep at night without fighting the war all over again.”

Living on the road

To further his mission, Sharma in 2016 founded Heroes of the Second World War, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving interviews with WWII combat veterans for future generations.

That same year he also set up a GoFundMe account to fund his efforts. So far he’s raised more than $181,000, which helps pay for his travel expenses and video equipment.

This has become Sharma’s full-time job.

He got a boost in late 2016 when CBS News did a story on his work. After it aired, he received thousands of emails suggesting new veterans to interview.

One of the biggest obstacles that Sharma faces when traveling is the fact that his age prohibits him from renting cars or checking into many hotels unaccompanied.

“I live out of the car when I’m on the road,” he told CNN. “(It) makes my job a lot harder.”

Real-life heroes

Sharma likes to say that he doesn’t need to go searching for celebrities — there are plenty of real-life heroes just a phone call away.

He stays in contact with many of the men he’s interviewed and counts them among his best friends.

Sharma also knows he can’t do it all himself. He encourages anyone who is interested in his work to reach out to WWII veterans in their areas and document their stories.

“We don’t need to use iPhones to take selfies,” he said. “We can actually document history with them.”

After four years, Sharma’s passion for his work doesn’t appear to be waning anytime soon.

“I was in Canada until this morning and now I have some interviews (in) San Diego, and I’m going to Texas and then Oklahoma,” he said Monday. “I’ll go wherever the World War II combat veterans are.”

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Queen jokes on TV: ‘It sounds like President Trump’

Queen Elizabeth II normally leaves the jokes to her husband. Now in her 90s, Britain’s monarch seems to be getting in on the act with a gag about Donald Trump.

While strolling through Buckingham Palace Garden with naturalist David Attenborough for a TV documentary, the tranquility is shattered by the sound of a helicopter flying above, giving the Queen an opportunity to show off her sense of humor.

“Why do they always go round and round when you want to talk?” she asks. “It sounds like President Trump!”

The pair were filming for an ITV program to be aired on April 16, celebrating a Commonwealth environmental project where the Queen discusses a variety of topics including climate change, Donald Trump and even her own passing.

The documentary shares a moment where the two chuckle over an ailing tree and the monarch goes on to say that it had been “sat on” at a garden party.

In another instance, Attenborough points out that a sundial was incorrectly positioned in the shade, the Queen laughs and says, “Had we thought of that? That it was planted in the shade, it wasn’t in the shade originally, I’m sure?”

She adds, “Maybe we could move it?”

The Queen is known for her deadpan sense of humor, which is rarely seen in public.

In 2016, Barack and Michelle Obama posted a video online challenging Prince Harry to the Invictus Games, setting social media alight.

In response, the Prince imitates a mic drop and after watching the video, the Queen shrugs and then looks at Harry and says, “Boom, really? Please.”

The Queen’s husband Prince Philip, unintentionally lived up to his reputation as “the prince of gaffes,” when in 2015 while accompanying the Queen to an official opening of a community center in east London he asked the female workers, “who do you sponge off?”

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She was too short to play Goofy. Then she invented Spanx

Redefining failure

When Sara Blakely sold fax machines door-to-door, she got used to hearing “no.”

“I knew that ‘no’ was just a part of the process,” the Spanx founder told CNNMoney. “You have to hear ‘no’ so many times before you actually can get to a ‘yes.'”

Blakely is the youngest self-made female billionaire, according to Forbes. Her path getting there wasn’t a smooth one. There were plenty of failures before her big success.

At first, Blakely wanted to be a lawyer — but that didn’t work out.

“I basically bombed the LSAT,” Blakely said. Then, she tried out to be Goofy at Disney World. But she was too short. To Blakely, it felt like she’d hit “rock bottom.”

After her “no” from Disney, Blakely got the fax machine job, which she held for seven years. There, she faced a steady stream of rejections.

“I was constantly being escorted out of buildings,” Blakely recalled. “People would rip up my business card in my face, which was a typical occurrence.”

But Blakely was never deterred by failure.

“Growing up, my dad used to encourage my brother and me to fail,” she said. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but he was just redefining failure for me. Failure became about not trying, not the outcome.”

That mindset, and her experiences, prepared her for the challenges of starting her own business.

The Spanx story

After years of selling fax machines, Blakely was ready for a change.

“One day, I pulled off the side of the road, and I literally thought, ‘I’m in the wrong movie.'”

She took stock of her life. She evaluated her strengths — sales — and wrote what she wanted in a notebook.

“I ended up writing, I want to invent a product that I can sell to millions of people that will make them feel better.'”

A few years later, at 27, Blakely didn’t know what to wear under a pair of white pants. “Everything showed,” she recalled. “Everything was really uncomfortable, or binding, or left a line or bulge, or something I could see through my clothes.”

“So I decided to invent a better solution.” Blakely chopped the feet off of a pair of control-top tights — an early version of the shapewear that would make her famous.

Because she had set that goal years ago, Blakely said, she immediately recognized the action as an opportunity.

Blakely started researching hosiery manufacturers and panty hose patents. She spent a week visiting factories in North Carolina, and finally found someone willing to make her product. Eventually, she landed her first big account: Neiman Marcus.

Word of the new product spread. People started paying attention: Including Oprah Winfrey, who put Spanx on her “Favorite Things” list in 2000, just two years after Blakely cut her tights.

That was a big moment for Blakely. “Getting chosen as Oprah’s favorite thing was a really validating, awesome moment for me.”

An entrepreneurial life

Blakely doesn’t have any formal business training, but she lives what she calls an “entrepreneurial life.”

“With the right mindset, you can live a life much bigger and much greater than you ever imagined,” she said.

And despite her success, she still has moments of doubt.

“It’s a risk to invent something,” she said. “You have to do something that didn’t already exist, which is scary, because that’s where self doubt is the most prominent.”

As a female entrepreneur, that feeling of doubt can be even more pronounced.

“You just imagine everyone else so much smarter, and more qualified than you are. Then, one day you wake up and you go, ‘What if it is me? Why not?'”

Blakely wants more women to take those risks. “My dream is for there to be many more female inventors,” she said. “We need the contribution of women.”

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