I’m not a veteran. I never served in the military. Frankly, I was never interested in it.
That said, I’ve always been impressed by people who served. In just about every military person I’ve ever met, I’ve seen a strong sense of duty and honor. I’ve also seen a feeling of camaraderie and belonging that you don’t find elsewhere.
A few months ago, I heard about the Veterans History Project (part of the Library of Congress). It’s an initiative is to collect oral histories from American war veterans and archive them in the Library of Congress. After contacting the library, I found out that anyone can collect these interviews. You don’t have to be associated with a specific university. It’s simply an effort to record memories. Researchers will use them and families will be able to access them after the veteran has gone or the memories have faded.
With that in mind I began a new project to collect as many of these oral histories as I can. I interviewed three veterans this week; one each from WWII, Korea and Vietnam. I plan to interview many more in the coming weeks and months. Copies of the interviews will go to the veterans, to the Library of Congress and to an archive here in West Virginia. I plan to edit the interviews together into a documentary/book project as well that will be called (at least for the moment) Voices of War.
|Fred P. Morris, 93, Elkview|
Spending just a few minutes in the presence of most of these men (I hope to interview women as well) reveals how poignant the memories can be. Fred Morris, a 93-year-old WWII veteran who served in North Africa and in Italy afterward, still remembers little things, people and places, from those days. His memories of other things in life are fading, but he remembered talking to a superior when things were tough and getting more food air-dropped in for him and his men while they were in Africa fighting against Rommel. He said things were “miserable” there.
Another of the veterans from this week, Robert Moore, recalled from his two tours in Vietnam one of the hardest parts of his job as a helicopter crew chief. He would have to fly R and R missions. Rescue and Recovery. He said the flight crews would all become good friends, partying and hanging out when they were off-duty. But then the call would come in and they would have to go pick up the bodies of friends who were shot down and either recover the helicopter or destroy it in place. This particular memory, more than 40 years old, still brought a sharp intake a breath and a pause as Bob recomposed himself.
I expect to learn a lot from this project. Quite probably, a lot of it will be things I’ll never put into words or be able to express. I have no doubts, though, it will be my honor and my little bit of service.
If you want to find out a bit more about the project, there is a page on my website. As the project develops, I will post excerpts from the interviews.
There are some costs associated with this project: to duplicate CDs, print forms and submit them to the archives. If you want to donate, there are two options online on the above webpage. Or contact me directly.