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From the Director: Leaving VHP

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The following is a guest post by Bob Patrick, director of the Veterans History Project (VHP).

Head and shoulders photo of man in suit and tie, smirking.
Bob Patrick is retiring after 10 years as director of the Veterans History Project.

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?

Comments (10)

  1. You have been so helpful to me in my work at the House Veterans Committee and putting what we do in context for me, personally. Thank you. You will be missed. It is hard to imagine there being a VHP without you.

    All the best,

    Carolyn Blaydes
    Democratic Staff
    Committee on Veterans Affairs

    • VHP has flourished with unanimous, bipartisan support from the US Congress that I know will continue. Thanks so much for your kind words and personal interest.

      Bob Patrick

  2. My Dad was a 20 year old navigator B17 WWII stationed in Italy. He has a written record of missions and experiences w/photos. Still alive will be 92. Someone should speak with him as he is very active, sharp, but time is moving on.

  3. It’s been wonderful working with you on getting my dad’s records preserved and I really appreciate your consideration for my family and my students. I see that both students’ records are now posted I, too, have been impressed with your staff at VHP. Everyone I met was dedicated and supportive. I’m sure they’d agree that you’ve presented a superb model. Wishing you the best in your retirement.

  4. Good luck for your future endeavours!

  5. Thank you for what you have accomplished. My father participated in an interview in 2008. He had served on Gen. MacArthur’s staff in Manilla at he end of WWII. I have a copy of his interview that means so much to me as he died just two years later. You have not just preserved all these individual experiences,but, you have created America’s story. Well done and best regards.

  6. Good luck with the next chapter, Bob. Thank you for leadership and direction on one of the best projects going at the Library. Your work preserves a precious history. It was a pleasure working with you.

  7. Bob, Congratulations on 10 years of dedicated service of collecting and preserving the first-person accounts of our country’s veterans. It was an honor and privilege to work with you when you joined the Veterans History Project. And I love reading your response to ‘what’s your favorite story?’… “My favorite is the personal account that we are going to receive next week that will be something we have never heard before.” Thanks to your leadership, the stories will continue to come in and your great team of colleagues will continue the good work. I remain a fan of the Project, as I know you will too. Best wishes.

  8. Congratulations Bob on doing a great job as the VHP Director. You inherited a program with lofty goals, struggling pathways, and a small collection of veteran stories. Your ten year command tour built pathways that expanded veterans stories beyond the 100 thousand mark and mobilized support from veteran organizations to the rich and famous.
    Well done Colonel!
    All the best to you and your family.
    Donald L. Scott
    Brigadier General, US Army, retired
    Deputy Librarian of Congress 1996-2006

  9. Hope this is not too late, but thank you for all your support for the Veterans Heritage Project in Arizona! You graciously showed a student of mine and myself around the Library last June, after receiving our oral history videos from our veterans through the Chino Valley High School VHP, and you supported my student being honored as the 1,000 VHP interview. Congratulations on retirement and I am sure you are excited about the next chapter of life!

    Scott Sloat
    Chino Valley High School
    VHP Advisor

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