Ted Paluch never considered himself much of a soldier.
But the 92-year-old veteran's lips began to quiver when asked what he learned from World War II.
"It made me a little more tolerant," he said.
Paluch fell silent, adjusted his glasses, and pulled a tissue from the pocket of his blazer.
"That's about it," he whispered.
Sitting in a Philadelphia office on Sunday morning, Paluch recalled his experience surviving the Malmedy massacre of 1944, when German troops lined up and killed 84 U.S. soldiers captured during the Battle of the Bulge. Paluch escaped with only a bullet wound in a hand.
His memories, recorded Sunday, will be archived at the Library Congress as part of its Veterans History Project. Derek Copeland, 17, of University City, a member of Boy Scout Troop 665 in Dresher, organized the day of interviews with Paluch and 15 other veterans as part of his Eagle Scout project.
Each of the participating veterans, who served in conflicts from World War II to Iraq, sat for interviews at least an hour long.
"I wish I could have some First World War vets, but they're a little past their prime today," said Copeland, a junior at Delaware Valley Friends School.
The Veterans History project, which began in 2000, keeps the recorded interviews in a searchable archive and makes them available to the public.
Paluch's interview, which will soon become part of those archives, includes stories of growing up working at his family's candy shop in Kensington, being drafted into the Army at 20, and training in Oklahoma.
He went overseas a few months after D-Day in 1944. A few months later, he was moving through Belgium with the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion when his unit ran into German troops and was captured near the town of Malmedy.
Even 70 years later, the horror of the day remains vivid for Paluch.
The Germans lined up the American soldiers in a field and began to shoot. Paluch said he was standing in the front row and fell to the ground after he was shot in the hand.
As the Germans moved among the moaning U.S. soldiers on the ground, shooting many in the head, Paluch stayed alive by remaining motionless.
"Didn't move," he said. "Just played dead a couple hours."
He said he later dove into a row of hedges, found a few other survivors from his battalion, and traveled back to join the rest of the American troops.
Dec. 17 marked the 70th anniversary of the massacre. Paluch said he spent the day calling another survivor and visiting the grave of a Philadelphia soldier who was killed.
His interviewers – Copeland's father, Larry, and younger brother Chuckie – sat silently as Paluch removed his glasses and wiped his face.
"It was gratifying to hear," Larry Copeland told other volunteers after the interview. "I don't know if enjoyed is the right word – it was some tough stuff."
Derek Copeland said he developed the idea for his Eagle Scout project because he loves history.
"Derek could not be deterred from doing this project," said his mother, Laurie Segal, even though his troop leaders warned him it would be challenging to find veterans to complete a project that resulted in recordings rather than a tangible product.
The 16 veterans he found, however, were happy to share their stories.
Len Feldman, 91, of Center City, arrived for his interview holding a poster-size photo of himself in Germany on V-E Day, posing with two fingers in the air to represent V for victory.
He did not remember where in Germany his V-E Day photo was taken, or the names of the other two soldiers posing beside him. But he did remember the emotion of the moment.
"They just told us the war was over," Feldman said. "Of course, we had no idea if we were going to be shipped to Japan after that."
Feldman said it was refreshing to sit and recall his three years in the Army during World War II.
Paluch, however, is accustomed to telling his story. Decades after the war, journalists and researchers began calling him for interviews. In 2007, he traveled to Belgium to participate in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new museum.
But when Paluch was discharged on Jan. 1, 1946, he told his interviewers on Sunday, he did not know that anyone would care to hear his story. All he wanted was to return home to Philadelphia, where he worked for several years in a trucking business.
"I wasn't a soldier," he said, laughing. "I figured the war was over, and that was enough for me."