The following is a guest post by Bob Patrick, director of the Veterans History Project (VHP).
On 31 May, I am going to retire as the director of the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress. It has been a high point of my professional career to be a part of such an important collection of interviews and materials that will permanently be available to inspire and enrich all those who experience them. What is inspiring for me is that this has happened because of the remarkable efforts on three fronts.
First is the VHP staff. In 45 years of governmental service, I have never been associated with a group of people who have been so dedicated to their mission – collecting, preserving and making accessible the stories of America’s veterans. Everyone “gets it”–that what they are doing is tremendously important to America’s veterans or their families. They are always most willing to go the extra mile to ensure these stories are preserved. I am privileged to have had the chance over the last ten years to work with such a dedicated team.
The other exceptional group is the thousands of citizens nationwide who have participated in VHP. They may have been with an organization or institution, or only by themselves, but they are all volunteers who took the opportunity to preserve the story of a veteran in their life–a veteran who is a beloved family member or a total stranger. VHP would not be where it is today without this “army of volunteers” who, to this day, continue to honor our veterans. I know many will continue to participate, and I encourage others to join them, as there are a multitude of veterans who still need to be heard.
The final element in all of this is the veterans who have willingly told their stories. I am often asked, “What is your favorite VHP collection?” Of course this is a difficult, if not impossible, question to answer when you have over 100,000 accounts from which to choose. But I do like to give them this response:
My favorite is the personal account that we are going to receive next week that will be something we have never heard before.
Surer than shootin’ VHP will receive something like this. It might be the interview with a Vietnam veteran who came out of his war very embittered, but now goes back to Vietnam to oversee the children’s hospital he helped build. Or it might be the diary of a soldier who was imprisoned by the Japanese. Or it could be the interview with a female helicopter pilot who flew combat missions in Afghanistan. Or maybe it will be the account by a Korean War veteran who lets you know how “damn cold” it was. That is the satisfaction I have upon leaving this position.
I know there are still many, many stories that are yet to be told, and they are going to continue to come in next week because there are veterans willing to open their hearts and minds to tell them, volunteers willing to collect them and VHP staff prepared to cherish them.
BTW – Who is the veteran in your life?