The following is a guest blog post by Yvonne Brown, a processing technician for the Library of Congress Veterans History Project (VHP). It is the sixth in a series from VHP staff. Click on the following names to read previous articles in this series:
- Tamika Brown– Processing Technician
- Andrew Huber– Liaison Specialist
- Tracey Dodson– Administrative Officer
- Justina Moloney– Archivist
- Candace Milburn– Processing Technician
My work as a VHP processing technician, at times, entails wearing gloves, and to a lesser degree, a mask, depending on the condition of the collection materials. Never in my wildest dreams would I have envisioned living through a pandemic in 2020, wearing stylized masks and face shields to protect against catching COVID-19, while trying to mentally measure maintaining a six foot distance from others.
Talk about a having a new perspective!
Fortunately, I have been able to keep a positive attitude about our current state of affairs, all while taking on an activity that has brought me a lot of joy. While I am home, I have decided to honor my late maternal grandfather, a World War II Army veteran, by gathering his original photographs and military papers for submission to VHP. I am so happy that my grandmother gave us my grandfather’s items several years before she passed in 2015.
Willard C. Hall, Sr. was born in Natchitoches Parish, and raised on a farm in Pleasant Hill, Louisiana with his seven sisters and one brother, Alvin W. Hall, who also served in the Army during World War II. My grandfather passed away in 1994, and never spoke much about his military service. For his collection, I plan to scan archival copies for myself and family members, then donate the originals to VHP. Like many families that participate with this project, I am thrilled to have a safe place to keep my loved one’s memory alive and original materials accessible for generations to come.
Based on these photographs, documents and family lore, I was able to piece together some of his story. When my grandfather reported for the draft, he left behind a wife and one daughter (my mother) in Monroe, Louisiana. As a man of strong faith, he carried a pocket-sized New Testament Bible with him through the war. My mother told me that since her dad was older than most recruits and knowledgeable about guns and rifles, he and several others stayed at the training base to assist new recruits on the rifle range, before being sent overseas.
My grandfather went on to serve as an amphibian truck driver in the 475th Amphibious Truck Company, on Iwo Jima in the Pacific Theater during World War II. The trucks he landed and drove were able to maneuver both in water and on land.
A quick glance at the photographs he left behind tell me that he was highly skilled and had lots of friends. I might also mention that he was quite handsome.
Upon returning to Louisiana after the war, my grandparents had another daughter and a son, then migrated north to Cleveland, Ohio, where one of his sisters had relocated with her family. His other sisters had migrated to Missouri, Kansas, Colorado and California, and over the years my grandparents would drive across the United States to visit them, in-laws and extended family and friends, taking their grandchildren with them. My grandfather absolutely loved his home state of Louisiana, and was always prepared for a road trip. The family returned every year, driving down from Ohio sometimes more than once a year during the summer, Thanksgiving, Christmas, special occasions and funerals.
A hardworking man, my grandfather worked at the Cleveland Builders Supply Company making brick panels. My mother shared that he became so skilled at his job that he found a way to create new brick colors. Builders and customers came to rely on his expertise in advising them on what type of brick to use for their projects.
Willard C. Hall, Sr. was a special man, and will never be forgotten.
The majority of VHP collections of African-American World War II veterans have been for the European Theater or stateside; however, my grandfather’s collection highlights African Americans’ military service in the Pacific Theater. Future generations should be aware of African Americans’ military service in the Pacific Theater, as well as the European Theater and in every aspect of defending freedom for all in every war.
After it has been processed, my grandfather’s collection will be added to the VHP archive, where his son and namesake Willard C. Hall, Jr.’s collection already resides. I remember proudly interviewing my Uncle Bill, and being fascinated as he talked to me about his 20-plus-year military career in the U.S. Air Force Chaplain Corps during the Vietnam War. That was my first time conducting a veteran’s oral history interview, and even though he’s my uncle, I was still nervous. Because my Uncle Bill is such an engaging storyteller, the conversation went very smoothly. He mentioned to me that my grandfather often wrote him encouraging letters during his service in the Air Force.
Looking beyond the usual 20/20 vision clichés to an exciting year, my coworkers have been diligently preparing to finish commemorating the Veterans History Project’s 20th Anniversary, “Their stories are OUR stories,” with events that continue as virtual programs. Everyone is facing the challenges of shifting to a new way of carrying out the VHP mission with poise, and I am so proud to be on this team.
Personally, I am looking forward to VHP participating at the 20th Anniversary of the National Book Festival this September 25th-27th under the theme, “American Ingenuity,” which will also, for the first time, be a virtual interactive experience. Although I’ll miss standing in long lines to get autographs from my favorite authors, I can’t wait to see what the Library of Congress has in store.
During 2020, people have had to project and reflect a renewed insightful view of what’s possible, and be innovative and creative in rethinking how to accomplish their goals and live their lives—hopefully and purposefully, carving out more time for family and neighbors. In doing so, I hope that they are also taking time to celebrate the veteran in their life. I can attest that it is a rewarding experience.
To find out how to submit a collection on behalf of a deceased veteran, visit www.loc.gov/vets. In the meantime, stay safe, and be well.