On Memorial Day I volunteered at a water station for a 5K/10K race. I became emotional when I saw a soldier in military fatigues carrying field gear walking the 5K in the 90-degree heat. The group I was with began to cheer him on and chant “USA, USA, USA.” It was later during the 10K that I became choked up when I saw him pass by me again. Neither time did he grab a water or walk through the sprinkler. Whether his purpose in wearing a uniform was to spread awareness of what our servicemen and women go through in the desert heat overseas or whether it was to show his pride in serving our country and honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice, his message was not lost on me. I wondered what his story was. Had he served in the Middle East? How many tours had he done? Was he still enlisted and home on leave?
Maybe I won’t ever know his war stories, but I can learn about other veterans by reading their personal accounts through a program called The Veterans History Project. The VHP is part of the Library of Congress American Folklife Center that collects and preserves interviews of U.S. veterans dating back to World War I.
In 2014, I was given the opportunity to volunteer for the VHP in my capacity as a court reporter. On Veterans Day that year I made the trek from the south suburbs of Chicago to the Lake County, Illinois courthouse to stenographically record a Vietnam War veteran’s oral history. The experience was one I’ll never forget. There were over 30 veterans of all ages from all branches of service present who were anxious to tell us their stories.
The veteran I was assigned to had served in the Army. His account of two tours of duty in Vietnam left an impression on me similar to what I felt about the young man at the 5K. I admire both of them for their bravery, and I am humbled by their patriotism. I applaud the strength and dedication it must have taken to be away from home and to put their lives on the line each and every day to protect us and our country. I learned recently that “my veteran” passed away last year and that his funeral service was held with Military Honors. I’m glad he was able to give his VHP interview before he passed away so that his grandchildren and others can read about his time in the military in his exact words.
You can search the database of the VHP on the Library of Congress website https://www.loc.gov/vets/ and see photos and letters provided in addition to the oral interviews given by some of our nation’s heroes and recorded verbatim by court reporters like me and other reporters from UBA.
The VHP is always looking for veterans who want to have their stories documented, but volunteer interviewers and court reporters are also appreciated and welcome. If you have questions about the VHP, feel free to contact Deborah Cohen-Rojas, who for several years was the organizer of the Lake County, Illinois VHP. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’re a court reporter and would like to volunteer at this year’s Veterans Day event in Lake County, please contact Arminda Badgerow, email@example.com. If you’re not in the Lake County area, there are other organizations that host events. For more information, go to https://www.loc.gov/vets/ or http://www.cyberdriveillinois.com/departments/library/public/veteransproject.html.