Reading, traveling and learning new things are at the top of my list of favorite things to do. Fortunately last weekend, I was able to do all three…and in sunny Arizona to boot! I made the journey from D.C. to “the Copper State” to represent the Veterans History Project (VHP) as keynote speaker at a reception and book signing for the Northern Arizona chapter of the Veterans Heritage Project, a non-profit organization that connects Arizona students with local veterans.
I spent the weekend in awe. Maybe it was the hot weather, which, as I’ve mentioned here before, I absolutely love. Maybe it was the relaxed pace—other than at the airport; no one seemed to be in a hurry to get anywhere. Everyone I met, from young people to adults, was super kind, engaging and seemingly genuinely interested in hearing what I had to say. In other words, things were just a tad bit different from life on Capitol Hill. What a difference a three-hour time zone change makes. Refreshing!
The “other VHP” is a stellar example of how educators and their students can take participation in the Library of Congress Veterans History Project to another, even more-meaningful, level. Founded in 2004 by Barbara Hatch, an Arizona high school history teacher with a heart for veterans, the Veterans Heritage Project’s mission is to provide students from diverse backgrounds with an enriched educational experience by connecting them with U.S. military veterans in a nationally renowned oral history and publication program. Hatch retired from teaching a few years ago, but spending the day with her last weekend, I couldn’t tell. Her level of dedication and connection to the students, veterans and regional coordinators is as strong as ever. The energy she pours into this project must be contagious, because everyone I encountered was as enthusiastic as she.
The Northern Arizona chapter is the fourth and newest region in the state to take on Hatch’s vision. Like all the other VHP volunteers across the nation, the students conduct veterans’ oral history interviews and submit them to us along with the required forms. But that’s not all. Afterward, each of these students writes a thought-provoking essay about the military experiences of the veteran he or she interviewed. That essay, along with photographs of the veteran and hand-sketched illustrations, are then published in an annual hard-covered book titled, “Since You Asked.” So not only do these students become historians who contribute primary source materials to the nation’s library, they also become published authors and illustrators.
As if that isn’t impressive enough, after publication, each veteran featured in the book is invited to a regional reception where they can once again connect with their impressionable interviewer, receive an official word of thanks and autograph copies of the book. It was really inspiring for me to see these hometown heroes being treated like the celebrities they are.
I was honored to be there to witness the other VHP, a well-oiled machine, in action.