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Learning History in a New Way: Veteran Interviews

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How much do you know about World War II? The Korean War? The Vietnam War? Or what about Operation Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom? What if you had the ability to listen to first-hand accounts about these wars from the men and women who served our country?

Well you're in luck because The New York Public Library is currently collecting oral histories of veterans in the New York City area. Once an interview is conducted, we put it on our website and then send a copy to the Library of Congress for their Veteran History Project. We have ten veteran interviews available to listen to online and more on the way.

 Vietnam Veterans PlazaNYC: Vietnam Veterans Plaza by wallyg, on FlickrAs Community Outreach Intern, I've had the privilege of conducting two interviews (LaTanga Blair and Gerald Brown), meeting several of the veterans, and listening to every interview at least once, but more likely, two or three times. My current project has been building pages for each veteran. Basically, an in-depth look at what they experienced with links to articles, books, encyclopedias, movies, and more to help broaden your understanding of the conflict they were involved in and the difficulties and successes they faced. My routine is to listen to the veteran interview and jot down notes; I've got several pages with my hastily scribbed handwriting, hoping I've spelled the places right. Once I'm done listening, it's to the internet to track down as much information as I can. I've enjoyed making the pages because it has given me the opportunity to learn so much about our country and the wars we were involved with as well as acquaint myself with NYPL's extensive catalog and online databases. It is also like a treasure hunt. I'm exploring digitally, hunting down the best books, movies, novels, and websites I can find. As a girl who loves links and skipping across the web from one story to the next, these pages have been a treat to create.

If someone were to ask me what veteran is my favorite, I would be hard pressed to answer. Each interview, from as short as 30 minutes and as long as two and a half hours, is unique and stunning in its own way. Each veteran has a different story to share and a different way about sharing their story. Even though we have several veterans involved in the same conflict, I never feel like I'm hearing the same story or same information twice.

The other interesting aspect of this project is that most of the interviews were done with a recorder. I don't see their face or have the ability to watch their facial expressions. I sit at my cubicle and find myself pulled into their story based solely on their voice. Their inflections, their tone, and the way they pause before making a final comment or before launching into a new story keep me interested. Each veteran is a powerful storyteller, whether they know it or not.

It's incredible. And it just reminds me that every person has their own story to tell. I'm thankful the New York Public Library is providing an opportunity for veterans to share their story and I'm even more thankful NYPL is preserving these stories for future generations to listen to.

My suggestion to you is this: listen to one of these interviews. Set aside an hour and just listen. Learn about their life and their adventures. Then, if you've been moved, maybe spend ten minutes looking through some of the additional resources (most veterans online have a page). Check out a book if you're really interested. Trust me, you won't regret it.

And, if you are a veteran or know of a veteran who would be interested in this project, contract Nick Higgins at (212) 340-0971, or email nicholashiggins@nypl.org, to schedule an appointment to record your story. I'd love to listen to your story and NYPL would love to share your story.

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