DOWNERS GROVE – Ninety-two-year-old David Baruch turned to a pair of YouTube videos to help tell the story of the USS Franklin, a naval ship that was infamously destroyed during a Japanese air attack during World War II.
More than 800 of the air craft carrier's nearly 3,400 crew of sailors and aviators died during the attack, which occured on March 19, 1945.
For Baruch, he sought after these videos as a way for his audience to see what he experienced without the expense of trying to fit his memories into words.
In front of a small crowd at the Downers Grove Public Library, Baruch, a Lombard resident, peered his head behind a podium, often using his own model of the USS Franklin to demonstrate what happened.
Taking part in speaking engagements like the one at the library in late February is nothing new for Baruch. He's done it for years, and he's told the story many times. And, yet, there's still parts of it that leave him in speechless and in tears.
Baruch, a New York native, was 17 years old when he joined the Navy. He was a rebel, who ran away from home at 16 and scored a job at a factory. Baruch was the eldest of six siblings and despite his leaving, he said he still called his mother every day to let her know he was OK.
During the presentation, Baruch told his guests to look at two photos on back table. One of them was taken when he was that spirited, wide-eyed 17 year old. That was before the war. The other, however, depicts Baruch shortly after that fateful attack. His smile is much more contained, a grin rather.
"When I look at it, that reminds me of where I was at with myself at that particular point," he said, calling the picture of himself "grim," his expression "tight."
Baruch admitted he was troubled. "It's hard for me to know exactly," he continued. "Having survived that whole experience was so traumatic, and it took a long time for it to gel with me – that somehow or another I lived through that experience.
"As a survivor, I was struggling with, 'How did I make it? How did I do it? Where do I go from here?'"
Baruch was haunted by those questions, and he hunted for answers.
At Bradley University in Peoria, Baruch stumbled on someone and something that changed the course of his life. He found Barbara, a friend who later became the love of his life and the mother of his two daughters. He credited her for "getting [him] out of the kind of 'self-absorbed' state" he was in, as he dealt with the aftermath of the war. Baruch, too, became a psychologist and dedicated his career to working in mental health clinics around Chicago.
"A lot goes into what we think and feel about our experiences, how we experience and how we deal with them, the questions we have about how we manage to get through difficult situations," he said. "Maybe if I wasn't a psychologist, I probably wouldn't ever come up with [that]. I don't know."
Alongside those photos of Baruch on that table were books and blown-up pictures of the USS Franklin. A small woven basket filled with little booklets created by Baruch himself blended in the neat display. A quote on the back of the booklet from Japanese artist and writer Haruki Murakami stands out: "When you come out of the storm, you won't be the same person you walked in."
That, for Baruch, has become his source of light.
"I can expect most people can look back over the years and identify a time and place in which their lives changed significantly," he said. "Whether by accident or design, these were the moments when – because of the readiness within us and the kind of collaboration with occurring around us – we're sort of forced to really seriously reappraise ourselves and the conditions under which we live and to make certain choices that will affect the rest of our lives in a positive way."