Veterans Day is the day Americans officially honor the service of our military veterans. What better way is there to honor them than to preserve the stories of their service?
That preservation can take a variety of forms. The Library of Congress Veterans History Project at the American Folklife Center is preserving oral history interviews with veterans. The project website provides specifics on how you can participate and offers guides to the interview process. A quick web search of veterans’ history” will provide listings for many state and local veterans history projects which support the work being done at the Library of Congress.
Books make a great preservation tool. One of the things that got us interested in working with family historians was a book our family created as a tribute to my Uncle Cecil “Squeak” Barnes who was killed at Normandy after serving in North African and Sicily. (For more on creating a tribute book see our earlier post on Squeak’s War.) Dorthea Nardone, whom we met at the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree, has taken the idea a step further with a book titled My Military Family which she is just completing. She documents the service of ancestors in various branches of the military back through the American Revolution.
Some of the sources you might use in preserving the record of your family’s veterans include:
Interviews – If you have a World War II in the family, I would strongly suggest sitting down with a digital recorder for an interview. Many people we have talked to have found that older relatives who had been reluctant to talk about their experiences in the war have become more willing to do so in their later years. Nancy’s father, who served on a carrier in the Pacific had been one of those reluctant vets, but after attending the dedication of the World War II memorial in Washington DC in 2004 he has told stories the family had never heard.
Letters – Squeak’s War was based primarily on letters my uncle sent home from the time he was drafted to the time he was killed. We have talked with a number of people who have had similar collections of letters who are now turning them into books.
Journals – If you are fortunate enough to have a diary or journal kept by a veteran you may want to preserve it in a book to make sure it becomes a part of the historical record.
Contextual materials – Military records, history books, newspapers, photo collections, and memorabilia will all enhance the recollections of the veterans you are documenting. A little targeted research will help create a richer book for your readers.
So, this Veterans Day, as you recall the service of veterans in your family, resolve to make sure that memory becomes a part of the historical record. You can do it!
(This post was originally published for Veterans Day 2012.)