Periodically, the Veterans History Project (VHP) sets aside a day for Library of Congress employees to preserve the stories of the veterans in their lives on-site, using VHP’s recording equipment. Whenever we announce the opportunity to participate in this way, our colleagues enthusiastically respond and quickly make appointments to bring in their spouses, parents, siblings and neighbors. Watching the interview pairs navigate the long, marble hallways to their assigned interview locations, one can always sense a mix of both pride and relief. It is clear that many of the veterans have put off sharing their stories for several years, and hope that the telling will finally lift a burden that has never before been given voice.
There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. -Maya Angelou
VHP has hosted a few of these events over the years, but a particular interview stuck with me. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I remembered why.
It was the Greene’s.
Mia Greene brought her dad, Jesse W. Greene, Sr., to work on October 1, 2010. They were both beaming as she gingerly guided his wheelchair into the temporary recording studio and helped to transfer him onto the sofa. A brief conversation with Mr. Greene revealed not only was he still mentally-sharp and more than happy to share his story at 94 years old, but he was extremely honored to spend the day with his “baby girl” at her distinguished place of work.
Another Library employee, Juanita Lyle, who works in the U.S. Copyright Office, helped conduct the interview. For one hour, Mr. Greene described what it was like to serve as a cook and a mess sergeant in the segregated U.S. Army during World War II, and the lessons he learned as a result. After the interview, the group submitted all the required forms, said their goodbyes and headed out. Mia retired a few years later, but I always wondered how her dad was doing. I would often think of him when writing an article or social media post for publication, particularly if the topic related to families, racial segregation or “The Greatest Generation.”
And then Mia stopped by the VHP Information Center last month, on a day I happened to be there. It wasn’t just a social call. She brought with her an original portrait of her father’s 45th Engineer General Service Regiment to be added to his existing collection. She informed me that, sadly, Mr. Greene passed away in March 2015, one year shy of his 100th birthday. For me, that made this donation all the more special. What Mia did that day is what so many others have done over the past 16 years—donate their deceased veteran’s original photographs, letters and military papers to VHP, so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war.
If ever the day comes that I have to sort through my father’s old military photographs and papers while grieving, I hope I can be as brave and selfless as Mia Greene, and add some of them to his existing VHP collection, so future generations can see why his “baby girl” was so proud of him, too.
Email [email protected] to find out how to add on to an existing VHP collection.