En español | Heroism under fire. Basic training. Boredom and KP duty. In their own words, veterans are describing every aspect of military life for the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress.
Thanks to friends, family, Eagle Scouts and veteran activists, some 88,000 audio and video remembrances and artifacts — from World War I through Afghanistan — shape the collection, started in 2000 and boosted by $3 million in AARP grants.
The effort always races time. You can help by capturing the stories of veterans in your life. Project director Bob Patrick says even veterans who had been reticent to share memories realize that "if I don't tell the story now, it'll never be told."
Here, a sampling from the stories of four veterans. See the "What You Can Do" box at the bottom of this page to learn how you can document the story of a veteran in your life.
Rothacker Childs Smith
Medic, U.S. Army
World War II
"I knew that I was going to die because it had been rumored that the Germans took no black prisoners … but I felt that when Jesus came again that he would awaken me and that he would look me in my face with a smile on his face because I had accepted him, and so I was at peace."
Luis Daniel Almaguer
Sergeant, U.S. Marine Corps
"At points I would ask myself, what am I doing [in basic training]? Why me? Then I always had an answer to it. I have a second chance in life, and I'm going to take it."
Eric Wayne Cagle
Staff sergeant, U.S. Army
Iraq and Afghanistan wars
"I don't remember a single thing. What I was told is that [the IED] blew up; I got hit in the head; I slumped forward; there was blood all over my lap. I opened the door, got out of the truck, walked to the back, and said, 'You guys OK?' And they said, 'Hey, Sarge, you're bleeding,' and I went 'thud'!"
Steve Mencher is a writer for AARP Media. Photographs courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress.
What You Can Do
- Download the Veterans History Project "field kit"
- Collect photos, diaries, documents and letters from the veteran
- Read the suggested questions to guide your conversation
- Record the interview in audio or video digital format
- Send the materials to the Library of Congress American Folklife Center
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