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Honored and Blessed: My Summer Spent with Arkansas Veterans

The following is a guest post by Victoria Anderson, a summer intern in Sen. John Boozman’s (AR) Little Rock office.

Victoria Anderson with Sen. John Boozman (AR). “I am so thankful he provides opportunities like this for college students.”

History may seem like a row of dusty old books sitting on a shelf, something people pass over because it looks boring, but I want to remind everyone that it is not. History is living and breathing. It is the lives our parents and grandparents have lived and continue to live. The stories they have to share are priceless, and I am so thankful the Library of Congress Veterans History Project (VHP) realizes this.

When I interviewed for this internship, I had to decide between interning in Little Rock or Washington, DC. Although the Washington experience was tempting, it was the Veterans History Project that caught my attention. Sen. Boozman’s Little Rock office would be working on the project during the summer, and I would be able to be a part of it. As an English and mass communications major, I love stories, so the thought of sitting before a veteran and hearing his or her story unfold right in front of me was beyond exciting. I knew then that this experience was going to impact me. I just didn’t know how much.

Victoria Anderson with Anita Deason (R). “It was a blessing to work with such a kind and intelligent woman.”

Anita Deason, the senator’s military and veteran liaison, told me before I came that I would be diving in head-first. And she was right. The first interview I helped with was on my first day.

The man we interviewed, Adam Prince, was the youngest veteran the office had interviewed because he had fought in Iraq. He is actually the cousin of my fellow intern, Dillon Vick. Mr. Prince was a little nervous at the beginning, and didn’t think he had much to say—his interview lasted nearly two hours. He told story after story in great detail, giving me a glimpse into a different part of the world. It was amazing to see him open up when he realized that we were genuinely interested in what he had to say.

There were some veterans I didn’t interview, but just meeting them and talking with them for a few minutes was an honor and a blessing. For instance, one afternoon we drove to the Jacksonville Museum of Military History where the senator talked with a group of Vietnam War veterans. I assisted and talked with one of the veterans, Colonel Kenneth Lucas, who had fought in WWII, Vietnam and Korea. He was in his 90s and was a delight to talk to. He reminded me of my grandpa because he wanted to know all about me, how I liked school and what job I wanted.

Victoria Anderson meeting Arlis Owens.

Another man I had the pleasure of meeting was Arlis Owens. He was the first veteran Anita interviewed for VHP, and is one of the sweetest people I’ve ever encountered. He encouraged me to read the newspaper clipping he had framed that shared some of the information from his interview. He was in the Battle of the Bulge, Normandy, and many other intense WWII battles. He was in combat for 247 consecutive days. Today, he suffers from cold damage due to day after day spent in the snow during the war. Mr. Owens is an amazing man who endured so much for his country. One of his more disturbing stories happened in Normandy. He had to drive through water filled with dead bodies that would drift into the cab with him. He would push one out, and another would float in. This is just a fraction of the horrors of war that brave young men like Mr. Owens saw that no one should ever have to see.

Victoria Anderson interviewing Edwin Ross.

I also had the honor of interviewing two men at the College Square Retirement Center in Conway, AR. My first interview with Edwin Ross was a little bumpy because I was nervous, but Mr. Ross was gracious and kind. I learned about his experiences in the Army and Air Force during the Vietnam War.

Victoria Anderson interviewing Gordon Bentley.

My second interview was with a 98-year-old WWII veteran, Gordon Bentley. He flew an aircraft called the FM-2 “Wildcat,” which he had to land on a carrier in the middle of the ocean. Needless to say, that took skill, talent and bravery. He brought a binder with him to the interview that day that was overflowing with original photographs. I handed him some of them during the interview, eager to hear his colorful, firsthand account of each black and white print.

Although it was a joy to hear all the interviews, it was also emotionally heavy. I know I just barely scratched the surface of the sacrifices these men and women made, but I hope by listening, I shouldered a little of the burden.

Victoria Anderson meeting some of the veterans at the College Square Retirement Center: (L-R) James Hudson, Gordon Bentley and Edwin Ross.

What impacted me the most about each of these veterans was their character. When I see them, I see incredible strength. I see love and courage. I see an inspiring history that will last forever.

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