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‘Dear Mom and Dad:’ A Look Inside the Letter Collections of the Veterans History Project

The following is a guest post written by Owen Rogers, Liaison Specialist for the Veterans History Project (VHP).

The summer between fourth and fifth grade saw my first few weeks away from family. As we prepared for my two weeks at summer camp, my mother and I roamed from one store aisle to another, picking out bars of soap, a new toothbrush, comic books (of course) and then, rather insistently, she directed us towards the stationery aisle. Miles away from home, with no means of call or casual communication, a ream of paper and a pencil ensured that we’d stay in touch. To this day, I’ll happen across letters that she tucked between the pages of photo albums!

In addition to the veterans’ oral history recordings collected, preserved and made accessible through the Library of Congress Veterans History Project, thousands of letters and personal correspondence cement the connection from the Homefront to the frontline.

Rubbing of Mark Ryan Black’s name taken from Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Mark Ryan Black Collection, AFC2001/001/12749.

Rubbing of Mark Ryan Black’s name taken from Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Mark Ryan Black Collection, Veterans History Project, AFC2001/001/12749.

Tragedy is the very nature of war, and accordingly, there are many VHP collections that consist entirely of posthumously donated period correspondence. For example, the Mark Ryan Black collection includes dozens of audio letters and photographs from his 1966 tour in Vietnam. In 2007, his mother donated these materials to the Library of Congress.

At the sunset of the “Greatest Generation,” VHP regularly receives posthumous donations of correspondence as well as photographs—originals carefully preserved by veterans’ families. By adding these materials to the permanent collections of the Library of Congress, they’ve ensured that their loved ones’ experiences—and their memory—are part of our national heritage.

In addition to an oral history, Kenje Ogata donated more than 100 pieces of correspondence, including this reassuring V-Mail message after he was shot down over occupied Europe. Kenje Ogata Collection, Veterans History Project, AFC/2001/001/76800.

In addition to an oral history, Kenje Ogata donated more than 100 pieces of correspondence, including this reassuring V-Mail message after he was shot down over occupied Europe. Kenje Ogata Collection, Veterans History Project, AFC/2001/001/76800.

Offering an additional layer of interpretation, letter collections capture the emotion of an era. In the case of Army Air Force veteran Kenje Ogata, a correspondence series of more than 100 letters documents his personal struggle with the institutionalized discrimination experienced by patriotic Japanese-American GIs. Complemented by a contemporary oral history, this intersection of raw emotion and reflection affords unique insight.

For the past 16 years, VHP has welcomed the first person narratives of all U.S. veterans who served since World War I, as well as collections of materials donated by the loved ones of deceased veterans. Find out how to participate at www.loc.gov/vets.

Another correspondence-themed blog post, written by VHP Reference Specialist Megan Harris, is available here.

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