US 21-year-old travels to New Zealand to chronicle stories of our combat veterans

A young American travelling the globe documenting World War II stories has come to New Zealand to meet as many combat veterans as he can.

As a teenager in Southern California, Rishi Sharma's superheroes hailed not from Hollywood, but the battlefield.

He's since founded not-for-profit organisation Heroes of the Second World War, visiting more than 1000 soldiers across America, France, the UK, Canada, Australia - and now New Zealand.

"I started riding my bike to the local retirement home and I actually got to meet these heroes face to face," he says. "I was learning more from the veterans than I was in school, and it got to the point it was like a job."

While here, he's videoed combat veterans in Te Awamutu, Auckland, Whangamata and Cambridge.

"The World War II veterans - I love them. They saved the world, and I get an opportunity to sit down and talk to them," he says.

"That's the biggest privilege I'll ever have in my life. There's so much we can learn from people who have done so much for so many."

Trevor Blaker, a 102-year-old from Tauranga, is one of those who has shared his harrowing account with Sharma.

He was part of the 20th Battalion who fought the advancing Germans, in North Africa at Minqar Qaim in 1942. In one of the most extraordinary feats in military history, they burst through enemy lines using their bayonets.

"The bullet went just past my eye and by my ear," he says. "One of my best mates who was about not much further between you and me, he was blown to bits."

Sharma makes a DVD keepsake for each veteran he meets - a thank you for their service and sacrifice, and a memory for their family.

"We still have an opportunity to interact and learn from these veterans, it seems like their motto is to help other people every day. It's such a contrast to the younger generation, who are so 'me me me'."

He admits life on the road interviewing often means sleeping in his car - but it's a small sacrifice compared to those his subjects made.

"It really gives these veterans who saw the worst possible things you could even imagine, an opportunity and an outlet to speak to someone who won't judge them," he says.

"If you talk to them like a peer - but with respect - they just open up dramatically."

Sharma's mission is to meet as many World War II combat soldiers as he can while in New Zealand in April - and if he runs out of time, you can bet he'll be back.


Contact Newshub with your story tips: