Military history manuscripts, in many instances, give broad overviews of wars, campaigns and battles. While these chronicles often touch on the key individuals who took part in major military events, an understanding of the actual experiences of those involved is not necessarily always revealed.
Oral histories, however, are firsthand narratives of what it was like in the foxhole, on the ship or in a plane from those who were in the fight.
“Through these interviews, not only can I share the experiences of myself and my family, but I can speak for the guys I served with.”
The American Veterans Center (AVC) spent two days on the USS Midway Museum recording oral histories with museum volunteers who are veterans of World War II as well as the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
“Our mission is to guard the legacy and honor the sacrifice of American veterans from the last 75 years of our shared history,” said Wes Smith, program director for the American Veterans Center. “Through oral history preservation, educational programs and civic events, we preserve the stories and lessons of veterans from which future generations can learn.”
Established in 1978, the AVC has recorded the stories of thousands of American veterans from World War II to the present day. All interviews are provided to the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project for use by future researchers, and are made available for documentary production and museum exhibits.
“It is important that our future leaders have the opportunity to learn from our service members experiences and lessons on leadership,” said Wes.
For World War II veteran Al Hansen, being involved in these types of historical preservation programs is critical.
“These oral histories are important to let our younger generations and even the older ones know what going to war really means on a personal basis,” said Al, an aviation machinist mate who served as a gunner with Patrol Bombing Squadron 10 in the Pacific Theater during the war. “They can learn how World War II affected the service members and their families.”
The AVC, which is funded solely through charitable gifts from foundations, corporate supporters, and generous individual donations, interviewed 16 Midway volunteers whose military services spanned the course of more than 70 years and three major wars.
“These oral histories provide an opportunity for tomorrow’s leaders to listen, view and in some cases actually meet with and learn from the legends who have preceded them,” said Wes, who has been with AVC since 2010.
“Through these interviews, not only can I share the experiences of myself and my family, but I can speak for the guys I served with,” said Al, a Midway volunteer docent since 2005 who has more than 6,300 volunteer hours. “I was always the youngest, so it’s likely there are none of them left to speak for themselves.”