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Capturing Military Stories with the Veterans History Project and Military Voices Initiative

This post is written in collaboration with Megan Harris, Senior Reference Specialist for the Veterans History Project

On Tuesday, August 9, 2022 3 pm EST, the American Folklife Center will host the panel discussion, “Sharing Military Voices Archived at the American Folklife Center,” at the Library of Congress—and you’re invited!

Man sitting in his home, being interviewed for Veterans History Project. Interviewer holds microphone to record the veteran, with a video camera simultaneously capturing the scene.

Image courtesy of 3Roads Communications

The American Folklife Center invites you to attend this event to learn more about the Library’s Veterans History Project (VHP) and StoryCorps’ Military Voices Initiative (MVI). Representatives will share collection materials and discuss the ways in which first person reflections and narratives help us understand the diverse experiences of active-duty personnel and veterans alike.

Hosted by the American Folklife Center—the archival home for both VHP and StoryCorps—this event will offer attendees an opportunity to engage with these vibrant projects, to listen to stories from the military community, and learn how to get involved with both VHP and MVI. This panel presentation will also highlight recently recorded stories from community members in the DC metropolitan area, which document and honor the service of our local military veterans and active duty personnel.

The following is an interview with Hazel Diaz, manager of the StoryCorps Military Voices Initiative, who answers questions about the history and importance of the larger MVI project, as well as the recent local recording initiative that culminated in the panel discussion.

Allina Migoni: The Military Voices Initiative includes over 2500 interviews, spanning back to 2012. These stories are told by American veterans, active military personnel, their family members, and friends. Take us back to the beginning of this initiative—how did it come about?

Hazel Diaz: One of our first Military Voices Initiative recordings was between our Founder & President, Dave Isay, and his friend Gordon Bollard. Gordon shared touching memories of his son Matthew who was in the army and served two tours in Iraq. StoryCorps recognized that millions of men and women had served while families supported them from home.

The Military Voices Initiative provides a platform for veterans, service members, and military families to share their stories. Holding space for Military Voices is a key part of our nation’s collective voice. StoryCorps, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the Library of Congress have come together in an effort to ensure this population has an opportunity to share their stories with future generations.

AM: Why was it important to develop this specialized initiative highlighting military voices?

HD: The American Military is one of the most diverse work forces in the world. There is no other institution like it. It is a key part of our history and a fundamental element of many Americans’ stories. This narrative goes beyond those in the military and it includes the people who serve beside them in and out of uniform. Their families, friends, and loved ones are also making sacrifices and serving our nation in countless ways. For example, you can hear our participant Allen Hoe sharing a story about an unlikely encounter with a stranger who treated his son Nainoa during his final moments in The Last Viewing.

AM: StoryCorps has 3 radio station partners per year for this initiative, as well as an archive at the American Folklife Center. How did this project grow to now incorporate these collaborations, and what roles do they play?

HD: In the first several years of the Military Voices Initiative, StoryCorps traveled the country recording conversations at a variety of veteran service organizations. In 2017, we had the opportunity through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to begin partnering with local radio stations. Currently, we visit 3 military communities every year for 2 weeks of recordings. Our radio station partners, like WAMU, help provide connections between StoryCorps and their communities. Participants have the option to share their recordings with the radio station for potential broadcast or they can decide to keep their stories private.

It is an honor to StoryCorps and our participants that these recordings have the option of being archived for posterity at the American Folklife Center in our nation’s capital.

AM: In April, StoryCorps recorded 44 new military centric conversations in the DC Metropolitan area with radio station partner WAMU. Tell us about the need for developing an on-the-ground recording program in the DMV.

HD: MVI targets communities where military presence and history plays a key part of their story. The DMV might be one of the most military centric communities in our country. I can’t think of a more important community to include in our nation’s collective narrative than the place where the decisions are made that impact our troops and veterans.

AM: This will be an exciting program where attendees will be able to hear a sample of past recordings, hopefully spurring further discussion and sharing of experiences. For those interested in sharing their own stories, what is the best way for them to connect to this initiative?

HD: Making this experience available to as many people as possible is an important part of our mission and values at StoryCorps. We have developed a few ways to participate in our collection that do not require our team or an appointment. StoryCorps has an app which allows users to record their stories and upload them to be archived at the Library of Congress. Similar to the signature interviews recorded by our staff, you have the opportunity to leave your legacy and tell your story.  In response to the pandemic, our team also developed StoryCorps Connect, which allows you to video chat while recording the audio interview.

AM: Thank you for your time, and we are looking forward to having you in August!

If you are in one of our locations, you can make an appointment and record with our Mobile Tour, at our StoryBooth, or with one of our initiatives, like Military Voices, either virtually or in-person. You can find ways to participate on our website.

We are so excited to invite members of the public to this panel presentation and to share more about the ways in which StoryCorps and the Veterans History Project enable people across the nation to document their own stories and those of the veterans in their communities.

To find out how to get involved with the Veterans History Project, please visit our website at www.loc.gov/vets. For more on Story Corps’ Military Voices Initiative, please visit https://storycorps.org/discover/military-voices/.

If you are interested in attending the event, please visit the registration page here. We look forward to seeing you August 9th!

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