For the last six months, I’ve been working on a new documentary project. I’m calling it Voices of War. Frankly, it will be another six months before it is finished.
I’ve been collecting oral histories from West Virginia war veterans. I began this project when I learned that only 20 or so oral histories had been submitted to the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project from West Virginia. This is out of an estimated 200,000 veterans living in the Mountain State. After I launched my project, I learned that Glenville State College is gathering an archive of West Virginia veteran oral histories which might explain why there hadn’t been many submissions to the national one. After thinking about it for a couple days, I realized that there can’t be too many of these efforts and that it is vitally important to collect as many of these memories as we possibly can.
My project is not solely about collecting these oral histories to be submitted to an archive, however. I plan to use each of these interviews in a documentary. It will feature an audio documentary combining comments and thoughts from each of the veterans I’ve interviewed and a printed piece with stories taken from the interviews.
It’s been an eye-opening and extremely gratifying project. I’ve sat down in dozens of homes and just listened, prodding or directing where need-be, but mostly just listening and trying to grasp what these men and women have seen.
I’ve learned a lot about the cost of war, too. It isn’t just the infantry, but the truck drivers, the security guards and the cooks who experience it. One veteran I spoke to, Ira Richmond, was a signalman on a landing craft in WWII in the south Pacific. He was there for MacArthur’s return to the Philippines. His ship was fired on, but never actually hit. Still, the stress must have been incredible. A shipmate of his left him a note saying “I can’t take another landing” and disappeared. The next morning, all they found were his shoes. He saw things that broke his heart as well. When they would take an island, small canoes would paddle out to their ships filled with women and children, begging for food and clothing after the long occupation.
I still have a few more interviews to collect. Specifically at this point, I’m looking for women veterans who deployed to any war zone and men and women who have served in Afghanistan. The biggest challenge I’m facing now, though, is to do this project justice. How do you tell the story of all of these men and women? That is the challenge I signed up for when I started this, and I do love a good challenge.
Time to get to work.
If you can to read other blog posts about this project and hear snippets from other veterans I’ve interviewed, follow these links.
If you’re interested in my previous documentary projects, check out:
The exhibit in Russia