The following is a guest blog post by Tamika Brown, a processing technician for the Library of Congress Veterans History Project (VHP). It is the first in a series of posts from VHP staff.
Be careful what you wish for; you just might get it. When I used to wish I could telework, maybe just once or twice a week, never did I imagine it would be five days a week for an indefinite time period. If you had told me in January that one day soon I’d be able to listen to and log a veteran’s extremely lengthy oral history interview, in the comfort of my own bedroom, wearing my fuzzy slippers, I would have laughed and told you, “There’s no way!” Because I work directly with VHP collections, the majority of my average duties require me to be hands-on, on-site. Also, there would never have been enough time for me to devote to listening to, not to mention typing an audio log for, such a long interview.
That was then—pre-Covid-19. This is now. There is no such thing as an average work day anymore.
For more than a decade, I have been part of a small team responsible for processing veterans’ collections that are submitted to VHP—the oral history interviews, original photographs, correspondence and other materials we receive at a rate of approximately 300 collections per month. Before the pandemic, there was no way I could listen to each interview I process from start to finish in an average work day. Of course I would do quality checks to make sure each recording was playable, the required forms were completed and that everything in the collection met VHP’s collection criteria. I would then input all the pertinent information from each collection into VHP’s internal database, so that the collection could be officially accessioned, and the veteran’s summary record could be added to our online database for research purposes. However, with the high volume of collections coming across my desk, having the luxury of watching or listening to full interviews just was not an option.
When the Library of Congress announced in mid-March that it would temporarily close to protect the health and safety of staff and visitors because of the coronavirus crisis, I was fortunate to be given a telework laptop. Although removing collections from the Library’s campus wasn’t an option, there was still collection-related work that could be accomplished from home. I quickly created office space in my bedroom. I had no idea how long this new arrangement would last, but I knew I wanted it to be comfortable, well-lit and free from distraction. After overcoming a few connectivity challenges and getting used to having virtual staff meetings, I was good to go.
Because I am now working from home every day, I have more time to listen to those interviews that somehow reached us without the required audio or video log, and add key points from the interviews to our internal database. The audio/video log is very important to a veteran’s collection because it gives us an insight as to what the veteran discusses during the interview, and provides us with content for research purposes. For example, if someone is looking for veterans who escaped German prisoner of war (POW) camps with comrades, our research specialist will be able to do a query to find all the veterans who mention these key phrases in their interviews.
Recently, while doing these logs, I came across Mr. Elmer Haynes’ 11 hour audio interview. Yes, you read that right, 11 hours! Under normal circumstances, there would be no way that I would be able to listen to this full interview. However, as you know, things are anything but normal these days, and now I have time.
Elmer “Fayne” Haynes, or “Fayne,” as he liked to be called, grew up in Tennessee with his family. During his VHP interview, he talked about the full arc of his life, from his early childhood, to his military career and beyond. Haynes had six brothers and one sister. He worked in his family’s grocery store prior to being drafted into the Army in December, 1942. He served as a sergeant with the 612th Tank Destroyer Battalion, and was called upon many times to fill a leadership position. Because of his limited education, Haynes thought he was not fit for the job. Haynes said his commander told him that his leadership skills and attitude made him the best man for the job.
Haynes served overseas in the European Theater, participating in campaigns such as: Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes and Central Europe. During the Battle of the Bulge, Haynes was captured and spent four months in a POW camp, Stalag XIB, in Fallingbostel, Germany. After a while, he and his comrades were taken from the camp and were forced to begin marching east. It was then that Haynes and four of his comrades found a way to escape.
Haynes, who said he was strong in the Christian faith, felt that the Holy Spirit was with him at all times. He was later awarded the Purple Heart for sustaining injuries during the war. He returned to the United States and was discharged October 16, 1945. Although he was in bad physical condition, Haynes was not diagnosed with tuberculosis until 1950.
After leaving the service, Haynes returned to Tennessee, where he and his brothers eventually started Haynes Bros. Candy Company and Haynes Brothers Lumber Company. He later owned a flag company, Fayne Haynes Flag and Flagpole Company. Mr. Haynes passed away June 18, 2016 at the age of 94.
I know that the Veterans History Project has a ton of great stories in the collection. Elmer “Fayne” Haynes’ story is just one of more than 110,000 and counting. I’m fortunate to get to see these collections firsthand as a processing technician. At a time like this, when I can sit and fully listen for myself, it makes me appreciate even more not only my job, but the job and sacrifices these men and women made for our country. Although we are all still trying to manage the challenges of life and work during a pandemic, I’m grateful to have time on my side.