Honoring Our Local Heroes: The Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress
BY DOM BUNKER, COMMUNITY SOLUTIONS DIRECTOR, UNITED WAY OF THE LAKESHORE
The Library of Congress, often hailed as the largest library in the world, is a wealth of human history, knowledge, and culture. Within its vast collections of books, films, audio recordings, photographs, and manuscripts lies a treasure trove of stories, particularly those of our nation's heroes, our veterans. Among these heroes are veterans from Muskegon County, whose personal narratives have been recorded and preserved through the Veterans History Project.
In partnership with the United Way of the Lakeshore, the Library of Congress' Veterans History Project is ensuring that the living history of these veterans is documented for future generations to learn from and be inspired by. Currently there 20 Veteran Heroes that grew up or currently live in Muskegon County listed, and there are an additional seven Veteran Heroes in process.
What is the Veterans History Project? Established in 2000 by Congressional legislation, the Veterans History Project (VHP) is a remarkable initiative that has been collecting, preserving, and making accessible the firsthand narratives of U.S. military veterans for over two decades.
This initiative began with a simple family gathering when Representative Ron Kind (of Wisconsin) overheard his father and uncle swapping stories about their service in World War II and the Korean War. Recognizing the fleeting nature of these reminiscences, he seized the opportunity to record their accounts on video.
This event served as the catalyst for Congress to create a national grassroots oral history program that allows individuals to interview veterans in their lives and communities. The resulting recordings are then archived as part of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.
Thanks to the generosity of participants and community partners, the VHP archive includes thousands of personal narratives in the form of oral history interviews, memoirs, letters, diaries, artwork, and photographs. These records serve as a valuable resource for researchers, educators, and anyone interested in the experiences of our nation's veterans.
The Role of the Community and Support of United Way. The collaboration between the United Way of the Lakeshore and the Veterans History Project is a testament to the importance of honoring veterans' stories in every community.
In 2022, United Way of the Lakeshore discovered that there were only five entries in the VHP from veterans and families in Muskegon County, despite an estimated 10,800 veterans living in the area. To bridge this gap and ensure the stories of local veterans are preserved, United Way initiated a series of efforts.
United Way's volunteer center, the AmeriCorps Seniors program, and their Mission United initiative have been instrumental in facilitating the recording of veterans' stories. They provide training and volunteer kits to capture these stories, ensuring that they will be preserved for generations to come.
The Veterans History Project only accepts videos of veterans during active war times. That leaves a huge gap in our nation's history with veterans that served during "peacetimes." Although a veteran may have served during a “peacetime” they still have important memories, lessons, and histories to share. They sacrificed years of their life to this country. So, for those that served during “peacetime” United Way hosts a log of these stories to be viewed by the public. With their local log, you can view not only the ones that are submitted to the Library of Congress, but of those who may not be eligible due to not meeting strict criteria.
To see this local log and to watch the videos already conducted, visit https://www.unitedwaylakeshore.org/VeteransHistoryProject.
How to Get Involved As A Volunteer. Volunteers are at the heart of the Veterans History Project. They play a crucial role in capturing the stories of veterans. Anyone can become a volunteer for this project, even without going through the United Way's training. However, those who undergo the training are provided with essential tools and resources to conduct interviews effectively. After the training, volunteers are connected to local veterans who wish to share their stories and have access to recording devices. The length of a veteran interview can vary from 1.5 to 3 hours, depending on the veteran's openness and willingness to share.
To sign up for a training session and get involved as a volunteer, visit the United Way of the Lakeshore's Veterans History Project page at https://www.unitedwaylakeshore.org/VeteransHistoryProject.
How Veterans Get Paired with Local Volunteers. For veterans interested in sharing their stories, United Way of the Lakeshore can help match your availability with trained volunteers. They will also assist in finding a suitable location for your interview.
Veterans are encouraged to bring in photos, letters, or other memorabilia they would like to include in the archives, but are kindly asked not to bring weapons or dangerous items to the interview. After the interview, United Way will process the recording and send it to the Library of Congress for archiving.
In the meantime, your video will be posted on the local log, ensuring that your story is shared with the community. To schedule an interview, please visit the United Way of the Lakeshore's Veterans History Project page or call (231) 332-4006.
The Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress, in partnership with the United Way of the Lakeshore, is an inspiring initiative that seeks to ensure that the stories of veterans, including those from Muskegon County, are preserved for future generations. By recording and archiving these stories, we not only honor our heroes but also provide a valuable resource for understanding the experiences of those who have served our nation.
As we approach National Veteran and Military Families Month in November, this project offers a unique opportunity for individuals to get involved, whether as volunteers, veterans sharing their stories, or as community members eager to learn about the rich history of military service in our community. It is through initiatives like this that we can ensure the sacrifices and contributions of our veterans are never forgotten.
United Way of the Lakeshore is uniting to inspire change and build thriving communities. Our Bold Goal – 10,000 more working families meet their basic needs by 2025. For more information, contact United Way of the Lakeshore at (231) 722-3134. Learn more about United Way of the Lakeshore at UnitedWayLakeshore.org, like the organization on Facebook and receive up to date information from Twitter at twitter.com/uwlakeshore.