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June 2, 2011

for the long holiday weekend, i headed home to vermont. yes, it was convenient to have 3 days off. yes, i wanted to see my family and friends. yes, it’s nice to have a break from the city every once in awhile. but one of the main reasons for the trip was to interview my grandfather for the veterans history project.

the veterans history project is a project of the american folklife center of the library of congress that collects and preserves remembrances of american war veterans. these first-hand accounts are archived at the library of congress for use by researchers and to serve as an inspiration for generations to come. once processed, the collections are available in the online database and at the library of congress.


i have wanted to document my grandparents’ histories for a long time, but unfortunately, never set up a formal opportunity to do so with my mom’s parents. my dad’s mother’s memory is getting a little foggy. my dad’s father is now 93 years old, although that’s not to say that it has slowed him down that much. with two hearing aids and after two knee replacements, he still travels to our family camps almost daily during the summer to maintain the property and renovate the log cabin that my grandmother grew up in. we worry, but in all reality, there’s no stopping him. i guess it keeps him 93 years young. a couple of months ago, a friend of mine mentioned that he had conducted some interviews with his grandfather and other acquaintances about their experiences in world war 2 and that there was an official project to which he could submit those materials. when i received an email with a link to the website, i started reading and was hooked. after a suggestion from my videographer friend, shire, i became the owner of a flip camera (which they discontinued production of a day later…) and starting googling my way through some research.

since two hearing aids can make a phone conversation a little tricky, i wrote my grandfather (baba) a letter to ask if i could talk to him about his experiences in the war. it’s not something that he readily talks about. in fact, he’s a man of few words most of the time. but i was ready to use my status as his only granddaughter if need be. luckily, i got a response back in which he agreed to be part of the project, with the caveat that his memory isn’t always the most reliable. upon asking my dad to do a little preliminary questioning about his unit, we found that that warning could not be further from the truth. before i knew it, i had a full email of stories and the interview hadn’t begun. sweet! prior to the interview, i had to read through the numerous qualifications for submitting materials. the site also provides some sample questions and i visited the national archives, where i found his enlistment records and read up on the battles that he had been in.

when i arrived at my grandparents’ house, baba and i set up shop in my uncle’s living room… they suggest a room with carpet, no extemporaneous noises and good light. i explained a bit about the project and then he began to show me the contents of a manila folder that included a list of all of the places he had traveled to during the war, a brief typewritten account of his experience that he had put together shortly after arriving home, a document from his unit that summarized their duties and accomplishments, letters that he had written back and forth with the grandson of his gun sergeant who lives in alabama, his discharge papers and numerous photos. i was blown away. he began to launch into an explanation of it all from the beginning and was telling me what his proudest accomplishment was (repairing the non-functioning guns on his ship to europe) when i realized that i should turn on the camera. i reviewed some of the questions i would be asking him and then launched into an introduction for the video. i was amazed by the details he remembered. and i was happy to see that his initial nerves faded as time went on. i learned historical facts and got to see a side of him that i don’t usually see; he’s a pretty private sort of guy in most cases. i knew that he had spent time in nice before i traveled there in high school and college, but i didn’t know that he was in ireland, italy and at dachau… all of these were destinations that i visited while studying abroad. 53 minutes and 58 seconds later, i had it on tape. we went down to the basement to make some copies of the documents and the stories kept flowing. later, i was able to write some of them down, in the hopes of adding them to an edited version for our family.


it was a very special experience and one that i was glad that i was able to have. since returning to boston, my evenings have been filled with reviewing the footage and logging important topics and their times on the tape as part of the required information to send in. once i register online, i’ll be sending the forms in with a copy of the interview. within 6 months or so, i’ll be notified that the information has been uploaded to the online database and that it can be accessed by visiting the library of congress (by appointment). i also hope to find an editing program for windows that will allow me to create my own project that incorporates photos, video, audio and quotes.

if you are lucky enough to have grandparents who are still around and willing to share their stories, i would highly recommend taking the time to talk with them. maybe you want to record video or audio, or maybe you just want to sit down and ask them questions about the past, what they’ve done in their lives, what made them who they are. i’m lucky that i had the chance to make this interview a reality and i’m looking forward to hearing more stories to add into the history of my grandfather and our family.

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