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Military Veterans Tell Their Stories For Library Of Congress


Columbus is known for its high number of military veterans.  The Library of Congress wants to collect and preserve more service related stories as part of its Veterans History Project.

The below is an automated transcript. Please excuse minor typos and errors.

Debbie Holmes: Here to talk with me about the Veterans History Project is retired Army Colonel Karen Lloyd, the director of the Veterans History Project. Thanks so much for joining me.

Karen Lloyd: Hi Debbie, great to be here thanks.

Debbie Holmes: So tell me how this effort started to get more veterans to tell their wartime stories? And I think you're especially looking for more African American and Native American, as well as women, veterans to tell their stories.

Karen Lloyd: Well, that's exactly right. Back in 2000, Rep. Kind from Wisconsin was having a backyard barbecue and his dad and uncle started talking about their World War II stories and he said, "Woah, can you wait a minute? I want to go get the video camera and I want to record this so the boys can hear it when they're older and will understand."

And he came back to Washington, and he partnered up across the aisle and in October of 2000 - it is a volunteer-based project where we need all of your listeners to reach out to the veterans in their lives and talk with them about what they did and what they saw and what they felt while they were in service.

Debbie Holmes: And so for 16 years you've been collecting these stories?

Karen Lloyd: We sure have. We've not just been collecting interviews but we collect photographs and letters and diaries and journals and it's simply amazing to me to hear these different stories.

Debbie Holmes: Why do you think it's taken so long to get more stories about what African-Americans experienced, as well as Native Americans and women?

Karen Lloyd: I think that we have got to reach, do a better job of reaching out to the communities and causing them to want to tell their stories. It's been my experience as a veteran that you operate as a team and it's drilled into you and there's no “I” in “team.” And everybody says, "Oh, my story is not important." I mean, and I've said the same thing.

And it finally dawned on me that everyone does have a story. We've got one from a shoe repairman in World War II, Johnny Butts. And what is so amazing about Johnny's story is it comes with lots of photographs. And you see him sitting in a cafe in Paris. You see him along the Riviera in Nice, France, and in all of these different places where he's being treated like a regular Joe, if you will. And when they return to the States, that wasn't always the case.

Chuck Hagel and his brother Tom, who served together in Vietnam, we have their stories. And something that Tom Hagel said that really resonates with me is he goes, "People think of Vietnam War. Well, it's really a million Vietnam wars." There's all those different stories. And when you start to see how they connect together it's really amazing.

For example, out of Columbus, Ohio, Tom Lowe flew for the Air Force and was a P.O.W. in the Hanoi Hilton. We have another story from John Stavast from the Hanoi Hilton and we actually have his diary from that time. And we were able to learn what he did. And one of the things he did was list the prisoners as they came in. And one of the entries is John McCain on the 26th of November, and we have John McCain's story as well.

So there we have three stories of individuals, all in the Hanoi Hilton, all from different perspectives that really gives a richness and depth to the experience. We have less than 5 percent of the Ohio veterans, their stories, so I would like to suggest to you that there's lots of work to be done. And I will tell you that Ohio is like most of the rest of the nation.

Debbbie Holmes: And so you're asking people then to take action within their own families to collect stories?

Karen Lloyd: Absolutely. And it's not even hard. On our website we have a field kit that really talks about how you do it. You need that willing veteran, you need a recording device. You can use a smartphone or a tablet.