The following is a guest post by Bob Patrick, former director of the Veterans History Project.
As the Director of the Veterans History Project, I had many, many occasions to make presentations about VHP. I spoke at national conferences, on radio and TV, community events and ceremonies, educational institutions, Veterans’ gatherings and at numerous Library of Congress events. I absolutely enjoyed doing these, but one occasion in particular sticks in my mind – from a raised hand at the back of a classroom at George Washington University.
VHP is a voluntary effort and asks for the participation of people from all walks of life to conduct oral history interviews. Over the last 20+ years, interviews have been conducted by families and friends of Veterans, and through organizational efforts. These interview events are sponsored by members of Congress, Boy & Girl Scout projects, community library campaigns and individuals who took the opportunity to interview the Veteran in their life. VHP focused programs done within schools are widely used and are successful. Through interviewing veterans, they provide opportunities for students from high school to higher education to hone communication skills, gain an appreciation for the experiences of older generations and learn some military history. I always say that one of the magical things VHP can do is have a student hear a Veteran talk about their experiences. It can be an eye-opening and mind-expanding occasion for the student and a chance for the Veteran to realize how much they are appreciated by younger generations. VHP has been a part of the learning process at a vast array of schools and touched the lives of many students in a positive way. I always enjoyed meeting students who came to the Library of Congress to present their interviews and talk about the Veterans they met and befriended.
Near the end of my time with VHP, I met Paul Tschudi, a professor at The George Washington University (GWU) who created a curriculum designed to teach counseling skills in the areas of loss, grief, and life transitions. Paul was an Army medic who fought in the Vietnam War and had his life affected by his experience there. He was guided professionally to learn and teach skills surrounding individual counseling that helped others, and developed and taught a GWU graduate-level course entitled “Loss, Grief and Life Transitions.” When he heard about VHP, he saw value in his students conducting interviews with Veterans and learning that many Veterans experience the lessons they were being taught. When he asked me to give a VHP presentation to his graduate level students I gladly accepted.
Remember, I was no stranger to giving talks about VHP, particularly with students. So, I went before Paul’s class and started to introduce myself and immediately someone raised their hand and said, “Excuse me.” What you need to know is that as a retired US Army Colonel I grew up in a culture where you don’t ask questions until after I’m through talking. Sounds cold, but that’s what I expected. Anyway, I gathered myself and said to the student, “Yes, what do you want?” Then she said, “I’m in this class because I did a VHP interview in middle school.” She went on about the impact VHP had on her, and how it cultivated an interest in working with senior citizens, particularly veterans. To this day, I get emotional remembering what she said. Here was a student who was so inspired by her VHP experience in interviewing and getting to know Veterans that she focused her educational goals and profession on assisting them, and other older people, in navigating the latter years of their life. She was the prime example of what we often talked about regarding the power VHP can have on younger minds. While it’s possible other students had a similar experience, for me this was a very special moment in seeing someone so infused with an idea I’d long discussed as a benefit of participating in VHP as a volunteer.
I share this with the hope that other teachers and students will get involved in VHP. Broadening curriculums to include history, communications, audio/visual techniques, journalism, psychology, counseling, and social studies has long been shown to have multiple benefits and I like to think there will be more students encountering VHP in their education who will cite it as a memorable experience in their learning and perhaps an influence on their professional path.
Please visit loc.gov/vets to see how you can get involved.
Postscript – In April 2021, Paul Tschudi, Assistant Professor, George Washington University and Vietnam Veteran tragically died in a home fire. Paul was dedicated to helping other Veterans and teaching about the value of counseling for those in need. Here is a link to the tribute paid to Paul at the time of his passing: https://www.paultschudi.com.