SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. — During the Vietnam War, the mother of a West Virginia soldier was notified that her son was missing in action.
She wrote to then U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., for help. Byrd looked into it and learned the soldier was back in his unit. He wrote to the mother telling her that her son was safe. The soldier, now in his 70s and living in Florida, is trying to find that letter.
A good place to look is among the more than 2 million Byrd’s private papers and records stored in the Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies at Shepherd University.
Byrd, who served in Congress for 57 years, died in office in June 2010 at age 92.
“The original letter to the mother is lost but we might be able to find a copy of it in our archives,” said Center Director Raymond W. Smock. “Byrd kept copies of everything.”
The center’s small staff led by archives director Mark Levitt and three part-time employees, including Shepherd interns, spent two-and-a-half years arranging, processing and putting records on databases.
On Friday, Levitt announced that the new indexing system of Byrd’s massive collection, which is now catalogued in 1,800 boxes sitting on more than 970 linear feet of shelving, is available to the public by appointment.
The Center has been accepting Byrd’s collection in dribs and drabs since it opened in 2000. After his death in 2010 it got the brunt of it when a tractor-trailer backed into the loading dock.
Finding a document can be done on line or in a two-volume, leather-bound 522-page index in the Center’s second-floor reading room. The first entry refers to papers that tell what Byrd did during the 83rd Congress on the repeal of the Taft-Hartley Law.
The final entry in the second book indexes records referring to Byrd’s activity on the appropriation committee during the 110th and 111th congresses in 2008 and 2009.
The index will lead researchers to Byrd’s nearly six-decade collection of private letters and papers, including correspondence between Byrd and constituents, plaques, awards, scrapbooks, photographs and artifacts given to him over the years.
Although open to anyone, Levitt said the most likely early users of the index will be scholars.
Smock predicts that the archives’ “projects” section with its details on all the federal projects and programs that Byrd brought into West Virginia, will interest state residents. “They’ll want to learn how he did things in their areas,” he said.