Recording memories for future generations
Photo: Mary V Danielsen

Top Reasons to Record Your Military History

By Mary V. Danielsen

Every soldier has a unique experience in the United States Armed Forces that illustrates a small piece of our American history. It is a moment in time that only one can tell accurately. While many veterans are resistant to turn a spotlight on themselves in recording stories of their time in the military, there are some distinct reasons they should move forward on the idea.

  1. It’s about history, not about you. Turn the clock back for a moment. You were a part of something in the past that wasn’t documented as well as it is today. You can describe experiences and provide first hand accounts that are a part of the United States History. Take your stories to another level
  2. Technology improves the machinery and gear. From the sunglasses to the satellites, imagine having the equipment they use today when you served. You have to ability to describe the manufacturing and strategies of everything you used, from the equipment to uniforms, facilities and moving as a unit.
  3. Strategies change. The war you fought can’t be fought again. What were you assigned to do? How did you do it? Tell us why it was or was not successful.
  4. Boundaries shift and cultures change.  War changes the boundaries of a region and cultures inch forward. Whether you served in wartime or not, you still have the ability to describe experiences in great detail, using back research to refresh your memory. What was the area like? What were your responsibilities? Tell me about your unit and the servicemen and servicewomen you worked with.
  5. The United States Armed Forces changed, too. Just the fact that I’m now writing servicewomen into a blog post to be politically correct is a sign of change. In World War II, for instance, many women who served in the U.S. Army Air Forces were assigned to fly transport within the country. Now a nearly 19 percent of the Air Force is comprised of women (more than 61,000). Describe the changes you experienced.
  6. You’re getting older. Next year’s military service recruits will get younger and younger every day. They’ll all look like babies to you soon. Yet, put a World War II veteran in front of a group of recruits or anyone touring restored planes at an air show and you suddenly have an impromptu round table discussion going on. Don’t underestimate the value of sharing your stories. They want to know the journey you’ve traveled.
  7. You served. Take credit for being a part of history. Reread #1 and #6. Be part of the movement.
  8. The soldiers bond. It hasn’t changed much in centuries. Yet, only you can tell that experience from your perspective. Share them: the mentors, nudgers, brothers, sisters, volunteers and comrades. Not everyone was lucky enough to make it this far. If you are hesitant about recording your military history for fear it would make you look like you just put an “i” in the word “team,” focusing on stories from your unit will preserve the memories of many.
  9. While you’re at it. Record a few stories about your life before entering service; what your where doing; how the town changed during your tour of duty; what it was like returning home; letters from home; becoming a civilian again; what advice you were given before and during your tour; and the life lessons that still influence you today.
  10. Patriotism.  What does it mean to you to be patriotic? Tell us.

When you finished recording your thoughts, whether they are written on a few pieces of paper, produced as a video or published in a book, consider donating your military memoir to the Veterans History Project with the Library of Congress. The project, which was started by an act of Congress in 2000, is even collecting notes and stories of those who volunteered.

A veteran’s history client of mine once wrote, “The freedoms you enjoy today as an American citizen were paid for by the sacrifices of others yesterday.” Let freedom be told.

For information on a field kit to conduct your own Veterans History Project visit http://www.loc.gov/vets/kitmenu.html

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