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Young man on a mission to honor World War II vets before it's too late

Honoring WWII vets
Young civilian undertakes a special military operation 02:56

REDONDO BEACH, Calif. -- For as long as he can remember, 19-year-old Rishi Sharma of has been fascinated with World War II. But it wasn’t until recently that he realized that history is still living.

“There are real superhero World War II vets out there, and I want to meet them,” he said.

Rishi Sharma CBS News

So in 2014, as a junior in high school, Rishi made it his mission.

“I ditched so many days of high school to go do an interview,” Rishi said. ”I started riding my bike to the local senior home. I interviewed those guys. Then I started driving.”

Today, he tries to meet one vet a day.

Rishi drives all over Southern California, searching out every World War II combat vet he can find, like Marine tank commander Ernie Eisley.

“They were going to make a big camp there and attack us at night,” Ernie told Rishi, recounting a combat experience.

Rishi talks to the vets for hours, then gives the recordings to the families.

Rishi interviewing Ernie Eisley CBS News

So far he has interviewed more than 210 combat vets; A remarkable total, but a monumental failure as far as he’s concerned.

Rishi says we’re losing more than 400 World War II vets a day. He can’t talk to them fast enough.

“It’s amazing how much history and knowledge is encased in each one of these individuals and how much is lost when one of them dies without sharing their story,” he said.

“The fact is I wake up every day to obituaries, guys who I wanted to interview and I have to find out they died.”

Rishi doesn’t even come from a military family. His parents emigrated to the U.S. from India. And yet, he cares more about our greatest generation than most any teenager you could find.

Pearl Harbor hero, 93, returns on the 75th anniversary of the attacks 03:22

In addition to his daily interview, he calls at least five World War II vets a day, just to thank them for their service and sacrifice.

“It means a great deal to me that you were able to endure all that so that I could be here today,” he said to a vet over the phone. “Well, thank you very much,” he replied.

Thanking veterans and preserving their legacies is so important to Rishi that he is now delaying college, starting a GoFundMe campaign and expanding his mission across the country.

Nice to know, as long as there are World War II veterans willing to talk, there will be at least one young man willing to listen.

To learn more and donate to Rishi’s mission, visit

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