More than 30 people from Boone, Hendricks and surrounding areas recently participated in a special volunteer training opportunity at the Hendricks County 4-H Fairgrounds in Danville.
Baird’s office has partnered with the Library of Congress in a project to collect and preserve the oral history of veterans in the Veterans History Project (VHP).
“The Veterans History Project is an invaluable resource to honor our veterans by collecting their stories and oral history,” Baird said.
The mission of VHP is to protect, preserve and make accessible personal accounts so future generations can hear directly from them via audio or video recordings and better understand their service.
The evening was led by professional folklorist Susan Eleuterio of the American Folklife Center. She explained the project to volunteers and gave them experienced advice for future interviews with veterans.
“In Congressman Baird’s district there are 50,000 veterans,” Eleuterio said. “I always share my cautionary tale of my grandfather. I kept meaning to interview him but he’d be watching football or it was time for dinner and I never interviewed him and he passed away a couple of years ago. It was heartbreaking. This is a part of a historical record for the nation, but also for your own family history. It’s amazing for people to be able to go and hear and see their family members.”
Perhaps different from other veteran initiatives, with technology and resources today, the Library of Congress has chosen to make a truly interactive experience.
On the Library of Congress website, www.loc.gov/ghe/cascade/index.html?appid=c88d73171ff945d2a7538507b899bda6&bookmark=Introduction, visitors can walk through stories of veterans from World War I through current conflicts, hear first-hand accounts and watch videos as the veterans relay their stories.
They can also follow an interactive map, as locations are pinpointed for each particular veteran, and follow their travels across the United States and overseas.
“We are such a visual culture,” Eleuterio said. “It’s really compelling to see where someone was, in his own words, in letters he wrote to his wife, and then see the map track his travel. It’s all exciting and compelling.”
Volunteers from the meeting were equipped with a field kit to go out into the community, find veterans, and interview them to submit to the Library of Congress.
“We talked about sponsoring an event that many veterans could attend and we could have support there for interviews while showing appreciation. We talked about getting young people involved in collecting the interviews as well,” Eleuterio said.
Eleuterio said there were specific requirements for the (LOC) to utilize the information. For instance, oral interviews need to be 30 minutes long; to submit a memoir, diary or journal, they must be a minimum of 20 pages and photos and artwork needs to be at least 10 pages.
She taught volunteers how to search the veteran database and find people in their communities they could reach out to and how to conduct an interview that helped get the veteran talking.
Loved ones may also submit a first person narrative of their family member or a personal narrative of a gold star veteran (individuals killed in the line of duty).
While it’s important for communities to preserve local history and experiences, Eleuterio said there is power in knowing you’re a part of a national record.
“It was a good turnout and exciting what the congressman and his staff and trying to do," she said. "People are excited and several had materials with them and had thought about doing something but didn’t know how to put a collection together.”
Not only do the volunteers learn more about their local history, the veterans receive a special gift as well.
“This may also be a way for some veterans who never received the welcome home they deserved to feel appreciated,” Baird said.
Eleuterio can attest to that, after seeing multiple interviews and the interest the project has brought to the public.
“I think the veterans are really appreciative, you can tell when you watch the interviews that it means so much to them," she said. "Spouses often say ‘they never talked about it,’ but when someone else expresses interest or a high school student wants to learn more, we have an opportunity to document and collect the records to be commemorated forever.”
For more information, visit the website at www.loc.gov, call Baird’s office at 317-563-5567 or email to Diane.Hubbard@mail.house.gov. The Folklore Center offers free volunteer training for groups of 25 to 60.