If you are a Veteran or have one in your life, check out the Veteran History Project through the Library of Congress. They accept original, first-hand accounts from Veterans. You can submit written stories, oral history audio and more. Here is the link to their main site: https://www.loc.gov/vets/
One Veteran History Project Participants said this:
“If we don’t tell our story, then nobody will know what transpired.” – Donald Griffith, Korean War Veteran
“I cannot express how enlightening and interesting this project has been. From these people, I have learned a great deal about courage, endurance, and patriotism that I have not, and could not have, found in my own generation.” – Brady Schuh, Eagle Scout. They have many pages of material online, including a 13-page field kit, so this article serves as an overview.
Why are we sharing all of this? Because we are passionate about oral history and we believe Veteran stories are some of the most important to tell. For example, here is a story we wrote about a Vietnam era veteran and Purple Heart Recipient. We are professional biographers and believe everyone should leave a story, so we put together a free interviewing tutorial that you can download by going to this page.
I liked this call to action:
“Share your story if you are a veteran. Simply sit down with a friend, peer or loved one and record a conversation about your military experiences for 30 minutes or longer. Or, you may contribute your unpublished, original memoir…Any day is a good day to share, record or submit a veteran’s story. Begin today.”
There are great reasons to participate in the Veteran History Project:
- All submissions are preserved in archival conditions at the Library of Congress
- All submissions are indexed
- About 10% of the submissions are digitized and posted online for public access
- The VHP has a wonderful field guide with release forms and sample interview questions that walk anyone through the process, even if you don’t end up sending it in.
Overview details about the Veteran History Project:
- Check out Frequently Asked Questions
- The VHP accepts audio and video-recorded interviews, unpublished memoirs and collections of original photographs, letters, diaries, maps and other historical documents from World War I through current conflicts. See more: What We Collect and About the Project.
- To start the process, read the VHP Field Kit and review the 15-minute-long VHP Field Kit Companion Video
- Make three copies of the interview and other materials. Keep one copy for yourself, give one to the veteran, and ship one in using UPS or FedEx (they don’t recommend USPS because materials can get damaged that way).
- Any documents or photographs submitted on an electronic device must be accompanied by hard copies. They cannot accept electronic copies instead of the original items.
- All VHP participants retain the copyright to their materials, even if the get digitized for public view.
The Veteran History Project process at the Library of Congress:
- Once materials are received, they go through a process that takes four to six months.
- Allow eight to 10 weeks for VHP to acknowledge receipt of your materials, and allow four to six months for VHP to create the veteran’s online record at www.loc.gov/vets.
- VHP staff enter details about the veteran and the materials into a database and create an online record for the veteran, accessible through a search of the online database at loc.gov/vets.
- They carefully label, preserve and store materials in a temperature and moisture-controlled environment to ensure they will not degrade. (Isn’t that neat?)
- Currently they digitize about 10% of the submissions, which become available for the public to search online.
As a local resource, check out this article covering a new Veteran memorial being built in West Valley City, which will preserve Utah Veteran stories.
Finally, the official Veteran History Project field kit contains these sample interview questions and instructions. It was so good, wanted to include the entire list of questions here:
It is the interviewer’s job to make the veteran feel comfortable and to be a good listener. Each interview session will be unique. The following is an outline (not a script) to help the interviewer guide the veteran through the conversation. Tailor the questions as you and the veteran.
Introduction to the Veteran History Project
The interviewer must begin the recording by stating his or her name and organizational af liation (if any), the veteran’s full name, the date and the general location in which the interview is being conducted. Please do not disclose private information such as home addresses, military serial numbers or Social Security numbers.
- Where and when were you born?
- Who are/were your parents and what are/were their occupations?
- Who are/were your siblings? Names and genders? Which, if any, serve/served in the military?
- What were you doing before you entered the service?
Early Days of Service
- In which branch of the military did you serve?
- Did you enlist or were you drafted?
- If you enlisted, why did you choose that specific branch of the military?
- What happened when you departed for training camp and during your early days of training?
- Do you recall your instructors? If so, what were they like?
- Did you receive any specialized training? If so, what?
- How did you adapt to military life, including the physical regimen, barracks, food and social life?
- Where did you serve?
- If you served abroad, what are some memories you have of that experience?
- If you were on the front lines, what combat action did you witness?
- If you were not on the front lines, what were your duties?
- If you saw combat, how did you feel when witnessing casualties and destruction?
- What kinds of friendships and camaraderie did you form while serving, and with whom?
- How did you stay in touch with family and friends back home?
- What did you do for recreation or when you were off-duty?
War’s End/Coming Home
- Where were you when the war ended?
- How did you return home?
- How were you received by your family and community?
- How did you readjust to civilian life?
- Have you remained in contact with or reunited with fellow veterans? If so, who?
- Are you a member of any veterans’ organizations? If so, which?
- What have you done since separating from the military?
- How did your wartime experiences affect your life?
- What are some life lessons you learned from military service?
- How has your military service impacted your feelings about war and the military in general?
- What message would you like to leave for future generations who will view/hear this interview?
- Is there anything you feel like we haven’t discussed, or should be added to this interview? If so, what?
In summary, the Veteran History Project by the Library of Congress is a wonderful resource for Veterans and families to preserve story. We urge you to take advantage of it. For more inspiration, check out our article (with sample oral history audio/video embedded). It’s entitled, “Questions to ask your parents or grandparents” and it has a free printable book of questions.
If you prefer to get help, reach out to us by clicking here or on the graphic below.
Do a family history interview
Sign up and we will email you a free, printable download of our mini-course to conduct a great oral history interview. You will be done in a week or less.