VHP’s 15th Anniversary: Year of the Interviewer

The following is a guest post by Monica Mohindra, Head of Program Communication and Coordination, Veterans History Project.

Martin III

Photograph of Dennis Martin, Vietnam, ca. 1970. Dennis Martin Collection, Veterans History Project (AFC2001/001/73202).

Did you ever work or live someplace that had inspiring quotes or poetry on the walls? “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” These evocative words from Maya Angelou have graced the Veterans History Project Information Center since 2005, but recently have begun to illustrate a new perspective for me.

Memorial Day is a federal holiday to allow us time to remember and honor the service men and women who paid the ultimate price. For family and friends of those deceased service members, it can be tough to reconcile what the day symbolizes for them with the festivities now associated with the day that begins summer. The Veterans History Project (VHP) focuses on the experiences of US Veterans, and thereby honors them, but in the opportunity for reflection provided by this, our 15th anniversary, we started seeing other perspectives come to light: those of the thousands of volunteers who gather the first-person narratives of “their” veterans to preserve and share here at the Library of Congress.

I mean it when I say this is giving some meaning to a terrible loss in my and my family’s life. It has taken over 40 years for that to happen…”-VHP Donor Barbara Martin

Martin letter

Letter to Parents, May 17, 1970. Dennis Keith Martin Collection, Veterans History Project (AFC2001/001/73202).

Like Barbara Martin, who submitted the letters and photographs of her brother Dennis, who was killed in action during Vietnam, many of these volunteers are compiling the original letters, photographs and papers that document the story the veteran in their lives to ensure this story is never forgotten. For some, participation in the Project releases their entwined untold stories. By sharing Dennis’s view of Vietnam, Barbara and others like her preserve and give voice to important perspectives while also finding comfort in releasing what they have held. Now, part of the Library of Congress, these stories can serve a wider purpose.

About half of our submissions are created with the help of individuals who interview their family members or friends or gather original photographs, letters and documents to memorialize their loved one. But it often doesn’t stop there. They then go on to interview or gather the stories of other veterans, or help someone else to do the same. The rest of the donations are created through efforts like those at VA facilities across the country, Disabled American Veterans, high schools, colleges, libraries, or the American Red Cross. In the latest installation of our Experiencing War feature, we take a peek at some of the individuals behind the camera or microphone, and offer an opportunity to explore the collections with them in mind.

This Memorial Day Weekend, I hope this installment of Experiencing War offers you an opportunity to think about the veteran in your life and community. Over the next several months we’ll be exploring more about the role of the volunteer and interviewer in the Veterans History Project, and we hope you’ll join us.


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