By Patrick Connelly, originally published in Buffalo Business First on Jun 13, 2020, 10:01am EDT.

Veterans’ documentary project led by lawyer has a big following

When it comes to projects, the one attorney and documentarian Gregory Peterson is compiling is pretty ambitious.

Peterson is a partner with Phillips Lytle LLP and based in Chautauqua County. He’s also a history buff who co-founded the Robert H. Jackson Center in Jamestown and is director of the nonprofit.

He’s done extensive research through the years on the career of Jackson, who was raised outside Jamestown in Frewsburg. Jackson was a local lawyer who was appointed to several federal government positions. He later served on the U.S. Supreme Court from 1941-54 and was involved in many landmark decisions.

Peterson’s current endeavor, Defenders of Freedom, may trump all that.

Peterson and others have interviewed more than 300 veterans of World War II in the last seven years with the intent of giving them a platform to share their stories for generations to come.

Hearing their experiences “is just inspiring,” Peterson said. “You appreciate the fact that all these individuals who were dubbed the Greatest Generation were just 17 or 18 years old and recently graduated from high school who got caught up in the patriotic fervor and lived 50 years of a life in three.”

The interviews were recorded on video, interlaced with war footage and posted on the Jackson Center’s YouTube channel.

“It started with a conversation with a few individuals who were working with the veterans,” Peterson said. “To capture the stories for the benefit of the family members and the public at large, we just deemed that to be somewhat of an important extension of the center.”

In addition to Peterson, other interviewers included Phil Zimmer, a Jamestown author; Gary Chilcott, director of Chautauqua County Veteran Services and Rolland Kidder, a former executive director of the Jackson Center.

The veterans were found via word-of-mouth referrals and the filmmakers hope to find more in the region. The organizers tracked down the veterans, then visited with them to hear and film their stories.

The efforts garnered the Jackson Center more than 13,000 YouTube subscribers.

The stories, Peterson said, are remarkable.

“It’s just an interesting psychological study of what motivated these men,” he said. “They’re very proud of what they have accomplished, but are humble.”

If you know of a World War II veteran in Western New York who has yet to be interviewed but would like to participate, reach out to Peterson at gpeterson@phillipslytle.com.