Palermo, Italy, aftermath of WWII Allied bombing campaign
Our PHNN Zoom social gathering on Veterans Day, 2020, focused on gathering veterans' stories. I spoke of my experiences gathering their stories, both the joys and the challenges. Thirteen of my veterans' interviews are now housed at the Library of Congress Veterans Oral History project collection. Here’s the powerpoint presentation we used for the gathering.
During our time on Zoom, I explained the process I use, which involves meeting with each veteran prior to the interview to get required paperwork completed (It’s a government program—you know!).
The pre-interview time helps in understanding each veteran’s story, provides an opportunity to gather and scan any photos the veterans may have to share from their time of service, and learn about what the veterans have gone on to do with their lives after military discharge. Perhaps most important, this private meeting allows time to ask each veteran what they do NOT want to be asked about on camera. This is an opportunity to be clear about experiences a service person may wish to remain private, and is a matter of respect that has always been welcomed.
Plane crash on the flight deck of a U.S. aircraft carrier, late 1950s
The time spent privately with each veteran allows the interviewer to put together an interview script to share with both the veteran and the camera crew. Our local Community Cable TV station, where all my interviews have been taped, were great partners in my local effort to gather these stories. I supply the camera crew with not only the script, but the jpegs of the veteran’s photos, to insert at appropriate times throughout the interview, adding visual interest to the final product.
Since no interview goes exactly as planned, there have been mix ups, confusion about which photo to use and other issues, but on the whole, the process has worked well. It does require close coordination with the crew at the TV station.
Community cable stations have a requirement to provide programming for specific community benefit. Producing and airing veterans stories destined for the Library of Congress fits the bill of community service to a T. Partnering with my local cable station (ABMI Channel 8) has been a positive experience all around.
Besides sending the documentation plus DVD of each recording to the Library of Congress, I also worked with our town to reserve a page on the town website, under Veterans Services, where all the interviews conducted here in Bellingham, MA are posted that are also housed in the Library of Congress. A short blurb is posted under each veteran’s link to help site visitors get a taste of what each interview offers.
Spending time with veterans is an experience in meeting people who have had their lives changed from having served. Almost without exception, those I interviewed have continued finding ways to serve after their discharge, whether it has been by joining law enforcement or fire departments, serving on local town boards, or other ways to continue giving back to our community. Listening to a veteran’s story is both a joy and a humbling experience. My hope is that other veterans will come forward to share their stories, a gift to us all.
Vietnam, late 1960s, American truck stuck in a rice paddy
A number of personal historians, along with thousands of others, have taken part in the volunteer effort to capture veterans’ stories for the Library of Congress. Find all the information for how you can help here: Veterans Oral History Project, Library of Congress
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a personal historian who loves the outdoors, is the author of four books in the Easy Walks trail guide series and co-authored Bellingham Now and Then: Celebrating the 300th anniversary of Bellingham, MA. She has been a freelance writer for numerous local, regional and national publications for the past 20 years, a personal historian since 2011, has conducted numerous interviews for the Library of Congress Veterans Oral History project, and has served in multiple capacities with professional organizations for personal historians.
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