SPRING TWP., Pa. — A recent graduate of Wilson High School is on a mission to ensure World War II veterans know they are appreciated. The teen also wants to make sure their stories are not forgotten.
From the second you meet 18-year-old Tyler Boland, you can tell that he is not your typical college student.
"All my friends make fun of me because my best friends are 100-year-olds and 95-year-olds," Boland said with a laugh.
His friends are World War II veterans, who he said should be honored, thanked, and admired.
"My mission in life is to make them happy," explained the Spring Township teen who now attends Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia.
Tuesday, 69 News rode along with Boland as he surprised several veterans with wrapped gifts. We captured 96-year-old James Connor smiling as he unwrapped his present and put on a new hat.
"I hope you like it," Boland said to Connor. "It's just something little."
"Thank you very much," Connor responded.
Connor still remembers the moment he was injured by shrapnel. He said he continues to carry two pieces inside his body. He received a Purple Heart for sustaining the injuries.
"It's been a long time ago, but the memories are still there," explained Connor. "They never leave."
Right before we departed, Connor expressed appreciation for all of Boland's efforts.
"It's another year coming along, and I noticed all this help that you people are giving to the veterans," Connor said. "It's certainly a great thing, and you should be applauded for it."
We also went to 98-year-old Edward Czechowski's house. He is a Navy veteran, who recalled dozens of islands that he visited during his service.
"We rode a typhoon. Three ships went 45 degrees right down the deep six. We rolled a few times. We said, 'Uh oh, this is it,'" recalled Czechowski, a Navy vet who spent a lot of time in the Pacific.
"We had good captains," Czechowski continued. "We got hit with two kamikazes. They hit us; we were flooding. Thank God we had good people knew what they were doing."
We also captured Army veteran Donald Burns opening his present.
"I think everybody should know a little history. When I say about the Battle of the Bulge, they said I had a weight problem," laughed Burns.
For our last stop, we drove back to Boland's house in Spring Township to meet 95-year-old Lou Cinfici. At just 16, Cinfici enlisted as a merchant marine. He would go on to serve more than 22 years during World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
"I loved it. I found a home. It was a great life. I got a good education," responded Cinfici, when asked why he chose to serve the country for more than two decades.
When he came back to the states, Cinfici said the welcoming wasn't what he expected.
"I kind of isolated myself against everybody, because I was treated so poorly when I came back from the war," explained Cinfici.
He said a call from Boland — asking him to attend a party with other vets — would change everything.
"So now, I go out and talk to the kids. When the school asks for a veteran to come over and talk, I go over and talk," he explained. "Otherwise, I'd still be isolated."
Cinfici said he can't believe how involved Boland is and believes that young people should learn about past wars.
"I think the young kids today should know exactly what happened with their grandparents and brothers and sisters," Cinfici said. "How they defended the county to make it the way it is today."
"Some of these guys, before, they have never told their story, and I am one of the first people to hear it in 80 years," Boland said during a sit-down interview. "Especially like concentration camp liberators. It's a lot to take in, but it's nice to know they trust me to tell their stories."
Boland said he plans to interview as many World War II veterans as he can. So far, he said he has conducted nearly 100 interviews.
"I have hours of footage with vets, lots of pictures," Boland explained. "I take them places. I host events at my house."
He documents everything on his Facebook page, Keeping History Alive.
"When a vet dies, their story dies, too," he said. "Eventually, I am going to send them [the interviews] to the Library of Congress, so when they're all gone in 5, 10 years, my generation — my kids, grandkids, all those future generations — they can all have the WWII vets' stories."
There is just one story he wishes he could have recorded.
"That's my great-grandpa. His name was 'Chuck' Charles Schwambach," said Boland, while showing 69 News a photo of his great-grandfather.
"By meeting all these other World War II vets, it kind of allowed me to understand what exactly he would've gone through, and he's like my hero," Boland said. "Seeing all these pictures and his medals kind of really inspired me to meet other vets."
Before wrapping up, Boland said he wanted to stress that people should always thank veterans for their service.
"It will just make their day," he said.
After we left, Boland continued giving out hats. He visited 99-year-old veteran Joseph Julian, who turns 100 years old Wednesday.