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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Contributing to the Veterans History Project

"Desiree!!" My father's voice bellowed throughout the house. "Come here, please!" I ventured down to the lower level  where my father was sitting. His large hand held the Sunday edition of the local newspaper, the Hartford Courant. It prominently displayed pictures of World War II Veterans in a special Memorial Day tribute. I looked at the faces and glanced at the articles.  "How come I'm not there?", my father inquired, feeling left out.

"I don't know Dad, there are 13,000 living World War II Veterans in Connecticut, you already had an article."
"Well, I want you to look into it, maybe there is a number you can call."

I read further and located a contact person. It was the director at The Veterans Project* at Central Connecticut University. You might have seen the Veterans History Project dog tags logo in stories about Soldiers. The Veteran History Project is a national initiative that acts as clearinghouse for collecting Soldiers' stories and memorabilia. I recalled seeing them for the first time when I was researching my post "Six Bailey Brothers Served the Country During World War II". The photos accompanying that blog post were repinned over three hundred times from the "Montford Point Marines and Honor Board" on Pinterest.


"They're not open on Memorial Day, it's a holiday for the school. I will contact them on Tuesday."
 I emailed the Veterans Project and immediately got a reply. Within minutes. The director wanted to know if my father had letters or kept a journal. Did he have any military documents or photos? She asked if my Dad was available for two hours and I thought to myself, better plan for three. Dad puffed up with pride.

If you go to the Veterans History Project site there are links where you can find Veterans to speak at events, curriculum guides for educators and more importantly, places where you can view actual materials in person. Based on the their site, the program was established in 2000 by an act of Congress.  Additional funding is provided by AARP magazine.

War Letters

 Letters are important because the reader can get a sense of exactly what the soldier experienced during war time. Moreover, writing letters is a dying art due to the advent of technology. Someone deployed overseas today can instantly communicate with a loved one via a web camera or email. (when possible)

War letters written from Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, for example, formed the basis of a book detailing his experience as commander of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment. Thoughts communicated on scarce paper two centuries ago was used for educational purposes and made into a motion picture, such as in the case of the Civil War epic film Glory.

Continuous communication among loved ones and friends was something that Soldiers appreciated. These letters show how service personnel counted the days until they returned home. Correspondence had a chance of being delayed for various reasons such as enemy interception, censorship and various other logistical causes. Nonetheless, Soldiers looked forward to receiving mail.

Library of Congress
Source: Flickr

Hand written correspondence during World War II was sometimes heavily censored. In looking at pictures of old letters, information deemed sensitive were redacted and an official stamp indicated that the contents were reviewed. Posters and films of that era reminded soldiers that ""loose lips sink ships." Censors and military officials were concerned about details that gave away troop locations, which would put a mission in a danger. The element of surprise is certainly a critical military tactic.

Also, a article on censorship and war letters states:
There was some censoring in the Civil War because letters sometimes had to cross enemy lines. Most of the censoring comes from the prisoner-of-war camps. For example, if someone was writing a letter from Andersonville [a Confederate prison camp where many Union soldiers starved] those at the camp didn't want people to know what was happening, so the prisoners wouldn't be allowed to say anything bad about a camp. The first heavy censorship of U.S. soldiers took place during World War I.

Journals and Photos                                                                                                        

Journals kept by young men in battle captures the Soldier's innermost thoughts and provide commentary for the events. Reader feels like they are part of the action. To illustrate, a seaman penned his observations as a member of the USS Mason, the WWII Navy ship with the mostly Black crew. Sailor James A. Dunn's journal eventually became a published book. The first person account drives the story and allows people to connect.

And speaking of witnesses, in the "Witness to the Holocaust", photographs left an indelible impression. Trained photojournalist William Scott III deftly captured images in order to document the ghastly atrocities of war. General Dwight Eisenhower instructed his men to take photos of concentration camps--  he accurately predicted that people would later deny the fact that the Holocaust happened.

"I made the visit deliberately, in order to be in a position to give firsthand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to ‘propaganda.’” General Eisenhower (

I bring up all these examples of military letters, photos, and journals to emphasize the importance of gathering materials from Veterans. Civilians and service people can create a better understanding of wars and conflicts. The experiences of African American Soldiers and Sailors are under-represented. I would imagine that the Veterans History Project would seek out stories from this group and other ethnic groups. Perhaps their stories will later be turned into films, plays and literature. Validation can at last be achieved.

For the Montford Point Marines, comprehensive history has been curated at their official museum in Jacksonville, NC, and the University of North Carolina (Wilmington). Office of War Photographer Roger Smith took over two hundred photos showing young African American men transitioning into Marines at boot camp. A good portion of Smith's Montford Point Marines photos are obviously archived in the Library of Congress.

My father's interview with the Veteran's History Project will be held soon. I suggest my readers to encourage Veterans to participate in the project. Artifacts and recordings insure future generations understand our comprehensive history.

One of my readers recently discovered that his father was an officer at Montford Point on Memorial Day. In his comments he also mentioned that his father was injured at Peleliu. Peleliu was one of the fiercest Pacific Battles of World War II. In honor of his discovery, my next series of posts will explore locations where Montford Point Marines saw intense combat. Ironically enough, support divisions ended up assuming combat duties.

"Thanks All Service"

Veterans History Project

* U.S. citizen civilians who were actively involved in supporting war efforts (such as war industry workers, USO workers, flight instructors, medical volunteers, etc.) are also invited to share their valuable stories
.-From Veterans History Project Site.

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