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Working Together Apart: Growing Even More Appreciative of Vietnam Veterans

The following is a guest blog post by Candace Milburn, a processing technician for the Library of Congress Veterans History Project (VHP). It is the fifth in a series from VHP staff. Click on the following names to read previous articles in this series:

While teleworking due to the COVID-19 pandemic these past few months, I’ve learned so much by reading some of the most intriguing blog posts from my VHP colleagues and other Library of Congress employees! They have all inspired me to write this article about my personal telework experience. I wrote another guest blog post in 2017, but it’s amazing how creativity and innovation is continuing virtually throughout the Library—even in these uncertain times.

Before the pandemic, a typical morning for me was to wake up at the crack of dawn to beat the rush hour traffic, and arrive at work by 6:30 am to begin processing oral history interviews and manuscript materials. By the time I left the house each day, my husband and kids, ages 11 to 18 were usually still enjoying a good night of sleeping!

Then the whole world changed.

VHP Processing Technician Candace Milburn teleworking from home during the Covid-19 pandemic, June 2020.

These days I do all my work on a laptop at my bedroom desk while the rest of the family is busy with their own schoolwork or other activities. They are all pretty independent, and have been good about not disturbing me during the work day.

Photograph of Dennis Martin, Vietnam, ca. 1970. Dennis Martin Collection, Veterans History Project (AFC2001/001/73202).

Even though I would normally work hands-on with the collections, I was ecstatic when given the telework project opportunity to transcribe the correspondence of Dennis “Denny” Martin’s collection.  Martin was drafted into the Army during the Vietnam War. He wrote several letters to his family concerning his personal experiences during basic and advanced infantry training at Fort Polk, and his service in Vietnam as a Corporal; VHP holds more than 20 of them in the archive. In one of his letters, he describes waiting to go to Vietnam as “a lonesome worried type of waiting.” I can’t even imagine waiting to be sent off to war. The sacrifice made by these service members blows my mind!

Photograph of Dennis Martin, Vietnam, ca. 1970. Dennis Martin Collection, Veterans History Project (AFC2001/001/73202).

Martin provides a detailed description of the equipment he carried in a Cu Chi field with him, and requests that his sister make him an ammunition vest. He also talks about being a part of a force along the Cambodian border for the Cambodian Incursion. Through his letters, you can tell how much Martin loved his family. He was determined to get a good deal on a nice quality camera for his father.

Sadly, Martin was killed in action in Vietnam on July 10, 1970—exactly 50 years ago today. His sister, Barbara Martin, donated the letters to VHP along with more than a dozen photographs. When she gave these treasured, sentimental items to VHP, she wrote:

 Somehow Denny’s death [has] some meaning if his letters could be a part of history. I wanted others to know how he felt about being in Vietnam.

Barbara is one of many Gold Star Family members who made the tough, but much appreciated, choice to donate their deceased veteran’s original materials to VHP. She even wrote and recorded a song about the experience titled I Won’t Forget. What a beautiful way to honor and preserve his memory.

Candace Milburn with her uncle William “Koby” Thomas at the Library of Congress, 2014.

I find Vietnam veteran collections particularly interesting because my uncle is also a Vietnam veteran. Reflecting on my career with VHP, I am most proud of being able to interview my uncle, William Thomas, also known as “Koby,” at a VHP Veteran’s Day event at the Library of Congress in 2014. I learned more about him in 34 minutes than I ever knew.

While visiting my grandmother as a young child, I found some of my entertainment in looking through old photo albums. (We didn’t have cell phones, social media and TikTok videos to keep us occupied in the mid 1980’s.) In my grandmother’s photo album there were all sorts of pictures of my uncle in Vietnam. He served in the Army as a sergeant, and in his interview, he discusses everything from basic training experiences at Fort Bragg to hand-to-hand combat in Vietnam. I now have so much more context for those old photos than I did back then. Because Uncle Koby’s story is now archived at VHP, generations of our family, and anyone else who is interested, will have the same opportunity to learn about this great American hero.

I discovered that Dennis Martin and my Uncle Koby have something in common other than having their military experiences preserved at VHP for future generations; they both received the Combat Infantryman Badge for their excellent service and sacrifice. Shout out to all the Vietnam veterans! You rock!

VHP Processing Technician Candace Milburn at her bedroom work station during the Covid-19 pandemic, June 2020.

Working with the Veterans History Project’s archive for 14 years has been an amazing journey for me. I’ve learned so much about the sacrificial service of U.S. military veterans, and am proud to help preserve their stories and make them accessible to the public. We honor and salute them every day!

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