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Library of Congress Veterans History Project Wants Local Veterans To Tell Their Stories

Posted Jul 24, 2012 by Howard Altman

Updated Jul 24, 2012 at 03:13 PM

Ever since I could remember, I loved hearing veterans talk about their experiences.

But as the years roll on, the number of those folks with stories about either the World Wars, Korea and even Vietnam are diminishing.

That’s why I think the the Library of Congress Veterans History Project is a pretty cool program.

The director, Bob Patrick, is coming to the area - Tampa on Friday and Clearwater Saturday. For veterans, it’s a great chance to tell your story. For the rest of us, it’s a unique opportunity to hear what it was like firsthand. Patrick’s visit will include a presentation of the wonderful work WUSF’s Bobbie O’Brien helping now-retired Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Rex Temple tell his story.

According to an open letter from the project, which says that the largest majority of the state’s 1.7 million veterans are in the West Central Florida area:

Veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces are our nation’s treasure. To ensure that future generations hear directly from those who served, the Library of Congress Veterans History Project (VHP) is making a special effort to preserve the oral history of wartime veterans residing in West Central Florida. Your participation is needed.

The Veterans History Project, a program of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, was commissioned by Congress in 2000; it relies on a vast network of community and service groups, universities, family and friends of veterans to record stories and contribute them, along with original photographs, memoirs, illustrations and historic documents, to the permanent collections of the Library of Congress. The mission is to ensure that future generations hear directly from those who served and come to better understand the realities of war.

These stories form a worldwide scholarly resource tapped by hundreds of researchers and historians each year. They have been spotlighted nationally ranging from HISTORY programs and an initiative with PBS and Ken Burns surrounding The War, to classroom presentations, workshops, ceremonies and screenings across America. A percentage of interviews may be viewed in full on www.loc.gov/vets. And of course, all of these rich, firsthand accounts and historic documents are accessible to thousands of visitors to the Library of Congress each year.

Many believe that it’s incumbent upon a grateful nation to preserve for future generations the remembrances of those who served. To that end, in just over a decade, the public has helped make the Veterans History Project the largest oral history program of its kind in the nation.

West Central Florida is home to the largest proportion of Florida’s nearly 1.7 million veterans. Many of these men and women – perhaps yourself among them – worked to secure our freedoms in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, The Cold War, Desert Storm, Iraq and/or Afghanistan.

Some say, “I didn’t do anything special; I was just doing my job.” But every story is important and every experience can help illuminate our understanding of history. In part, an interview can provide an opportunity to share perspective, honor a fellow soldier, or provide a picture of daily life in the military for those who may never experience it. Sharing your experience is a patriotic act. It can register as a kind of vote, supporting others’ prerogative to do the same, and affirming that history should be told by those who lived it.

Particularly where veterans of earlier wars are concerned, we have limited time to capture vital firsthand accounts. That is why multiple segments and sectors of West Central Florida are joining a special initiative to record veterans’ remembrances and contribute them to the permanent collections of the Library of Congress.

Congressman Bill Young is leading an initiative to record veterans’ stories in Pinellas County in cooperation with St. Petersburg Museum of History. Representatives Bilirakis and Buchanan are actively supporting VHP; Congresswoman Castor has contributed interviews , and Representatives Ross and Nugent promote the Project annually. Area organizations interviewing for the Veterans History Project include Suncoast Hospice, Bay Pines VA Medical Center, Curlew Hills Memory Gardens, and University of South Florida via St. Petersburg Museum of History. Area organizations supporting communications include Honor Flight of West Central Florida, Veterans Funeral Care, Tampa Airport USO, and Support the Troops.

Much is taking place. On July 27th at WUSF Studios, I will receive a compelling series of interviews of U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Rex Temple, which WUSF journalist and Rosalynn Carter Fellow Bobbie O’Brien is contributing to the Veterans History Project. I will share more about our cause at “Honor Our Veterans” on July 28th in Clearwater (details below). We will continue equipping local groups to record vets’ stories. And senior staff from VHP will return to West Central Florida in September to help further mobilize the public to participate.

Patrick will be at “Honor Our Veterans” on July 28th from 10 AM – 1 PM at Suncoast Hospice, 5771 Roosevelt Boulevard, The Gathering Room, in Clearwater. Attendance is free; RSVP to jhaake@tampabay.rr.com or register on a space-available basis from 9:15 AM Saturday.

Reader Comments

Por (Trishkfl) on July 25, 2012 (Suggest removal)

Your story yesterday about Lt. Col. Cleveland was wonderful!  I would love to have her speak at a Rotary meeting in the next few months.  Could you pass my contact information along to her?

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