Eighty years have passed since Bill Gosch, a native of North Tonawanda, served in combat with the Carlson’s Raiders, a special operations force within the Marine Corps during World War II.
But the 98-year-old’s memories – from killing nine Japanese soldiers on a single mission in Okinawa to listening to a voice in his head to dodge bullets aimed at him in a suicide attack in Guam – have been honored and amplified by a group of dedicated storytellers, from a colorful and homeless YouTube combat historian to a production company known for veteran-focused docuseries picked up by major networks.
“About eighty years ago, I never thought this would happen,” Gosch said, referring to his two years of service in the Pacific. “My world has changed, to say the least, for the better.”
Multimedia spotlights on Gosch’s fascinating military stories were followed by even more attention.
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The weekend after Veterans Day, Buffalo Niagara Honor Flight – with the help of the Buffalo Bills – invited Gosch to a private suite with his wife, son and daughter for his first Bills game, a surprising milestone. for a lifelong North Tonawanda native — once a scholarship football player at Niagara University — who said Saturday he believed Josh Allen had the potential to become the next Jim Kelly.
About three weeks ago, Gosch was escorted to Washington, D.C., on an honor flight to visit war memorials and received the Bills tickets the evening of the flight.
“He was blown away to receive the personal invitation to the game,” said Buffalo Niagara Honor Flight President Tom Petrie. Petrie said there are more surprises for Gosch in Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings.
Braun, a Republican who served as alderwoman for the 2nd District for six years, succeeds Matthew L. Parish, who resigned as clerk-treasurer earlier this month to become assistant clerk for Niagara County.
On Saturday morning, Honor Flight Heroes television duo Eric Roberts and Andrea Reeves and YouTube creator Rishi Sharma visited Gosch at his North Tonawanda home to record a pilot episode of what they hope will become a television series dedicated to the living “hidden heroes” of World War II. . The pilot will not only highlight Gosch’s exploits in World War II combat, but will also feature a razor-sharp 98-year-old man who made headlines in 2020 by serving as the temporary alderman of the second neighborhood for the North Tonawanda Common Council.
Both Sharma and Roberts were instrumental in connecting Gosch to the Buffalo Niagara Honor Flight, which spearheaded the Bills’ ticketing gesture. The television series, produced by Roberts’ company, will highlight Sharma’s most compelling interviews with veterans across the country, if it receives funding.
Gosch’s WWII memories have already impacted veterans, military enthusiasts and civilians around the world, thanks to Sharma’s 21-minute YouTube production during a visit to North Tonawanda in december. The clip garnered over a million views on YouTube, and fans asked for autographs and sent stacks of letters to Gosch’s home.
In last year’s clip, Gosch lamented the roughly 12 to 20 soldiers he killed in war. He is now in tears when he thinks about how these men weren’t able to start their own families.
“At the time, it was just something that had to be done,” Gosch recalled on Saturday. “It had to be done.”
But Gosch said his worldview evolved after leaving the service, spending several winters in Hawaii and experiencing different Asian cultures.
Sharma’s Remember WW2 nonprofit – with the mantra “no history left behind” – has shared interviews with more than 1,700 veterans and attracted more than 110,000 subscribers on YouTube. The 25-year-old first-generation American, whose parents are from India, fell in love with WWII history in high school – while riding his bike in a North Los Angeles nursing home and talking to residents – sparking a devotion so intense that he’s dedicated his life to uncovering stories of combat.
His quest drew national attention during his visit to Pearl Harbor for the 75th anniversary of the attack, and while he was there, CBS aired a TV spot explaining Sharma’s mission. His GoFundMe brought in around $115,000 overnight, and he was able to fly from veteran to veteran to shine a light on their stories over the next two years.
“There’s something so pure – and I can’t stress that word enough – about this generation: clean, grew up just wanting to have a good life, immersed in the worst war in the history of the world, literally seen hand-to-hand combat, 70 million dead, and they go home and build our society,” Sharma said on Saturday. “This idea of putting others before yourself is such an alluring idea.”
But Sharma added that he had no home, living in recent years mostly in a car in which he dragged a tripod, a cinema-grade video camera and two microphones. He lives off modest advertising dollars from YouTube, which he says have suffered due to the platform’s algorithm changes, and donations to his GoFundMe cover his travel expenses.
Gosch, however, is grateful for Sharma’s efforts. It sparked something of a mental rebirth for the North Tonawanda native.
“Rishi made it enjoyable,” Gosch said. “I enjoyed his talk with me and it brought back memories of all those long forgotten things. The more I sit and think about it, the more things tell me something. The mind is a good thing.”
Ben Tsujimoto can be reached at [email protected], (716) 849-6927 or on Twitter at @Tsuj10.