By Patrick McCallister
For Hometown News
VOLUSIA - Attention, veterans. The Library of Congress wants your stories.
The American Folklife Center is preserving them for researchers, writers, students and the public at the Veteran's History Project, and area veterans have numerous ways to get their stories into the project. One is in Deltona.
Victor Velle, a Vietnam veteran and owner of History Rescue Team, volunteers to record fellow veterans' stories to send to the project.
"It's such an underpublicized program," Mr. Velle said. "They don't fund anything for this project; it's all volunteer."
Bob Patrick, director of the Veterans History Project, said it started in 2001.
"It started quite innocently," Mr. Patrick said. "A congressman from Wisconsin heard his father and a buddy swapping war stories in the backyard. He got out his video camera and recorded them. The light bulb went on - he said, 'These are the things we need to preserve.'"
What started as a family recording for posterity became a bill in 2000 to create the Veterans History Project to capture and preserve all veterans' stories. It enjoyed unanimous support in both houses of Congress, and the president quickly signed it into law.
"We receive about 100 collections a week," Mr. Patrick said. 'We have close to 83,000 collections."
While most of the audio, video or written collections are submitted to the project by families, or veterans themselves, others are done and sent by volunteers. Two years ago, the University of Central Florida joined those collecting stories for the Veterans History Project.
"We realized this would be a valuable opportunity for our students to do something hands-on with history," Barbara Gannon, project coordinator, said. "It served a lot of our interests. It gave our students a wonderful learning opportunity, and helped integrate our veteran students."
According to Tiffany Rivera, coordinator of educational and training programs, the university started interviewing veterans for the project about two years ago. The school has collected about 150 recordings. It's digitized about 120 and put them on the Internet at www.riches.cah.ucf.edu/veterans. Also, people can visit the John C. Hitt Library at 4000 Central Florida Blvd., Orlando, to hear and see the audio and video recordings.
Ms. Gannon said the UCF Community Veterans History Project is looking to add many more stories to its collection.
"We have on our website a place for people to sign up (for interviews)," she said. "They sign up themselves. We also reach out to the community and ask people to sign up."
She said that interviewees have many options about where to tell their stories.
"They can come to us, or we can go to them," Ms. Gannon said. "We prefer to do it at people's homes. That's where people are comfortable - in their home."
Jessica Souva, program liaison for Florida, said other schools are helping veterans share their stories with the project.
"Florida State University is also an option," Ms. Souva said. "Some veterans prefer not to be interviewed in person, but by phone."
FSU's Reichelt Oral History Program can record veterans' stories by landline telephone. For more information, call the program at (850) 644-4966, or visit www.ohp.fsu.edu/contributing.html.
Work Mr. Velle does for the Veterans History Project is free of charge, but not free of costs. He estimated that, because of his professional equipment, his interviews with veterans cost about $200 each. He also travels to meet with and record veterans.
"One of the limitations we've had is there's a cost to doing these," he said. "We do this as a public service. You can't charge for it, and can't even accept money from the veteran if he offers it."
That limits the number of interviews Mr. Velle does. Another limitation, he said, is the reluctance of many veterans to have their stories recorded.
"I'd say there's a myriad or reasons," he said. "People who served don't feel they did anything special. They don't think of themselves as heroes. It was part of being American."
Mr. Velle is at (321) 947-0144, and www.historyrescueteam.com.
Ms. Gannon, too, said many veterans are reluctant to share their stories.
"People don't understand that we're interested in all veterans," she said. "Some people think we are only interested in (your story) if you're a combat veteran. We're interested in the entirety of the veterans' experiences."
Most of the Veterans History Project's recording participants aren't professionals, according to Mr. Patrick. He said the Boy Scouts of America recognize veteran recording projects toward gaining Eagle Scout status, several schools allow recording veterans' stories for academic and public-service credits, and many libraries have made room for amateur volunteers to record there.
"I've got one guy in California who took on this project as a campaign to remember his father, a World War II veteran," Mr. Patrick said. "He has a room at a Los Angeles library to do interviews monthly. He's done more than 200 interviews."
To find out more about recording a veteran's story for the Library of Congress, or to watch or listen to digitized recordings, visit www.loc.gov/vets.