“History never looks like history when you are living through it.” Those words, from the former government official and educator John W. Gardner, underscore the importance of listening to US military Veterans tell their fellow Americans about the trials and tribulations they endured in service to this nation.
That is exactly what the Veterans History Project (VHP) enables. Established and supported by Congress in 2000, VHP brings military history to life. It is part of the American Folklife Center, a unit of the Library of Congress. Recorded video and audio interviews of Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, and Coastguardsmen give witness to conflicts from World War I to the present day. The Veterans’ stories range from matter-of-fact accounts to emotional recalls of tragic and honorable struggles to protect and defend the United States.
The American Red Cross proudly contributes to the VHP by inviting, interviewing, and dispatching Veterans’ stories to the Library of Congress. One of the Red Cross volunteers at Ft. Bliss, Texas, is Mrs. Anne Broillet, a ninety-three-year-old military widow and volunteer since 2010. She says, “It’s important we get the oral history from the Veterans.”
Besides the oral history, the Veterans History Project also delivers video content. All interviews are submitted to the Library of Congress in un-edited video format, so the viewer can see as well as hear the emotional toll of combat-related experiences. Anne Broillet recalls an interview she conducted with a Vietnam Veteran a few years ago. She says he became so emotional recounting his experiences that he threw his head back to hide his tears. When he brought his head down, his face was buried in his hands.
Kate Koebbe, a Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) Specialist in San Antonio, TX, also emphasizes the importance of the video component. “We communicate through much more than words,” she says. “Body language and tone convey so much more without ever speaking a word.” Kate is using the Library of Congress’s guidance to craft a manual to help Red Cross volunteers structure and conduct their interviews with Veterans.
It’s important to study history in order to improve the present and the future, so what better way is there than to bring the rich and profound history of America’s military to life? The VHP, along with Red Cross support, strives to do this. SAF Regional Program Manager Wesley McMahand sums it up well as he reflects on the VHP at Ft Bliss: “It’s an honor to collect the stories,” Wes says, “and highlight some of the heroes that have served in our community.”
If you know a veteran with a story to tell, please invite and encourage them to contact a local Red Cross office or visit www.loc.gov/vet for more information. At the same website, you can also see and hear historic interviews already conducted by dedicated Red Cross volunteers.
As always and forever, America’s Red Cross salutes America’s Bravest.
Written by Eric Laurhammer, West Texas Chapter volunteer