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Veterans' stories to be preserved

March 28, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Fathers and grandfathers who served in past wars tend to fall into one of two categories. Either they will regale anyone who will listen with war stories or they will stay silent, refusing to divulge what they experienced while fighting for their country in a strange land.

Either way, their stories need to be recorded and archived for future generations, officials with the Library of Congress and West Virginia University said.

Today (March 28) from 1 to 5 p.m., anyone interested in interviewing veterans, along with veterans interested in sharing their stories, are asked to attend a training seminar at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center off W.Va. 9 east of Martinsburg.

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The Veterans History Project seeks to obtain the stories before the storytellers are gone.

According to the Library of Congress's Web site, 1,700 of the 19 million veterans in the United States die every day.

The Library of Congress has partnered with West Virginia University to seek out veterans in the state. Of West Virginia's 1.8 million people, around 202,000 are veterans, making it the highest per capita number of veterans in the nation.

A few veterans already have been interviewed, said Lara Eller, the graduate assistant at WVU for the project. Others who have been interviewed include "Rosie the Riveter"-type of women, those who served in the Women's Army Corps and civilians.

People who attend the training seminar will learn how to record the interview, transcribing techniques and possible questions to ask.

Questions range from the simple, such as asking the veteran his date of birth and why he enlisted, to more complex. Veterans are asked whether they saw combat and whether their unit experienced many casualties. If the veteran was a prisoner of war, he is asked to recount that experience.

On a lighter note, veterans are asked what the food was like, whether they pulled any pranks or did anything special to bring them luck.

No prior experience is required to conduct an interview and a kit will be provided. Interviews should be recorded either with a tape recorder or, if possible, a video camera, Eller said.

Some people have a specific veteran in mind that they'd like to interview, such as a parent or grandparent. Those who do not still can attend and will be paired with a veteran, Eller said.

Eller, who is pursuing a graduate degree in journalism, said she longs to interview her grandfather, who served in World War II and Korea. Illness, however, has prevented it from happening, she said.

Veterans who are leery are told that their stories are important, but some still do not want their family to know what happened to them. They are asked to tell only what they want to tell, Eller said.

"A lot of them are struggling with post-traumatic stress and things like that," she said.

Copies of the interviews will be kept at WVU's library and at the Library of Congress. CDs of each interview will be made and given to the veterans, Eller said.

Joel Beeson, the director of the project at WVU, is writing a grant proposal to turn the stories into a book, Eller said.

The project's focus is on veterans who served in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf war, up to 1995. It documents the contributions of civilian volunteers, support staff and war industry workers, as well as the experiences of military personnel from all ranks and branches of the service - the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps and Navy, as well as the U.S. Coast Guard and Merchant Marine, according to the Library of Congress.

Along with granting an interview, veterans are asked to provide originals or copies of photographs, diaries, letters, home movies and other relevant items.

"Even if you should forget your tape recorder, video camera or notebook, you and the men and women with whom you speak would not leave the interviews empty-handed," the Library of Congress Web site says. "Veterans and war workers will take away a sense of pride in their contributions to America's war efforts. They will gain the satisfaction of knowing that they are passing on to you firsthand knowledge about the realities of war and the everyday acts of sacrifice and heroism that accompany it."

If you cannot attend the seminar or would like more information, go to www.veteranshistory.wvu.edu or www.loc.gov/folklife/vets.

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