Veterans Day season is understandably a traditionally busy time for the Veterans History Project (VHP) staff and supporters. With media interviews, performances, workshops, exhibits, veteran/Gold Star family member interview opportunities and ceremonies, this year was certainly no different. As we bask in the afterglow of successfully sharing stories through multiple mediums, I would be remiss if I didn’t take a quick moment to offer our appreciation to other Library divisions that have recently promoted VHP resources. Although VHP regularly collaborates with a myriad Library of Congress divisions, we are especially grateful this season to the Young Readers Center & Programs Lab and the Conservation Division.
While VHP asks for interviewers to be 15 years of age or older to conduct interviews, that certainly doesn’t limit any age to the archival side of the Project. For instance, Siobhan Miller, Teaching with Primary Sources intern at the Young Readers Center & Programs Lab, shared numerous ways for students of all ages to commemorate Veterans Day and bring stories of service to life. As was shared in a recent Minerva’s Kaleidoscope blog post, Miller chronicled one student’s National History Day journey from discovery of the “Ghost Army” to the Congressional Gold Medal Act.
Firsthand narratives from World War II veterans of the 23rd Headquarters Special troops, such as Elmer Mellebrand’s, helped personalize the deceptive use of false equipment such as inflatable tanks, noises, visuals and more to mislead Hitler’s forces. As a top-secret unit with records classified until recently, many of the stories went untold and unlearned. After his History Day project, the student (Caleb Sinnwell) got connected with an advocacy group and joined in, even writing to his state’s Senators, to petition for appropriate recognition. By February 2022, these unsung heroes were awarded the highest distinction Congress can bestow, the Congressional Gold Medal. Children (and their parents) can come view the interactive research box that is currently being tested in the Library’s Young Readers Center & Program Lab this winter.
Another recent connection was through Jennifer Evers’ work with the Irving Greenwald diary. As a senior book conservator, Evers works with a variety of special collection materials throughout the Library of Congress. As part of her job, she gets to work with items created by people whose names you might not be familiar with, but who connect us to our past on an individual level and allow us to experience the world through a different time and perspective. It is always a pleasure to learn of the conservation efforts and especially to see the before and after magic they regularly perform. It is equally as enchanting to learn how they relished the collections for what they are. In the recent Guardians of Memory – Preserving the National Collection blog, Evers goes beyond the “Lilliputian-sized Diary from World War I’s” cover and impossibly small penmanship to an ordinary man who was drafted into the U.S. Army during the Great War.
Irving Greenwald was a print shop owner turned soldier who catalogued his meals and months marching around the French countryside while serving in the “Lost Battalion.” He was a new father, eager to go home to the daughter he was yet to meet, but also intent on documenting this unexpected time in his life. One of the most notable pieces of Greenwald’s diary is his miniscule penmanship, which gets smaller and even smaller still in order to include all of his experiences. Perhaps not as apparent to the untrained eye is the fact that pages were added. In her blog, Evers states, “He cleverly secured them in place near the beginning of the text block with a new sewing thread – perhaps using rudimentary binding skills that he previously employed in his print shop – and a now-brittle and yellowing adhesive, and renumbered them with their new dates.” Evers goes on to describe how the conservator selected to preserve the diary by first taking it apart, a perilous, but worthwhile endeavor. Her next blog (due out on December 5th) will go into greater detail as to how the diary was treated. As one who attended her Preservation Week presentation a few years ago, I know we are in for a treat with what is shared in her next iteration.