Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, wants to keep an important part of American history alive for future generations.
His office has linked up with the Library of Congress American Folklife Center’s Veterans History Project to push an effort to record the stories of Oregon veterans. The Veterans History Project was created by Congress in 2000 and its aim is to collect first-person stories from U.S. military veterans from World War I up through the global war on terror.
According to a press release from Merkley’s office, the history project has amassed more than 114,000 individual accounts from veterans nationwide. The project also collects other original historical documents from veterans, including maps, diaries, photos and letters.
The process to participate in the effort is pretty easy. Basically, if you are an Oregon veteran you can sit down and share your story with a family member, friend, or community member and record a conversation about your experiences.
The recording can be 30 minutes or longer. Others can volunteer to interview a veteran and Merkley’s office is trying to beef up a corps of volunteers to interview Oregon veterans around the state. The history project also provides free Zoom or in-person training workshops for organizations that are interested.
I talked to Merkley about the effort from his office and he said the goal is to help every veteran “create a permanent record through their documents, their pictures and written memories of their service.”
“So that it will be part of our historical record forever through the Library of Congress,” he said.
Merkley said the program is a good step toward stories of veterans in a way that honors military service.
“But it also helps illuminate the history of our country and our international relations and all the different challenges we faced over time. So, I thought this was a very exciting opportunity to try to link volunteers who work with a veteran to help them create a permanent record or to interview veterans and record their thoughts,” he said.
Though the program has been around since 2000, Merkley said it hasn’t received the kind of publicity it warrants.
“I wanted to publicize it as much as I could and help facilitate both volunteers getting involved and veterans getting involved,” he said.
There are a lot of good things to say about Merkley’s support of this project. For one, any time a program is created that can preserve our history it is a noble effort. As Americans, we tend to look forward — not backward — and sometimes our shared history can fade.
As a U.S. Army veteran myself, I confess I never thought a lot about preserving my story. When you are a young man in the military, thoughts about safeguarding your story aren’t really high on the priority list. At least it wasn’t for me.
As I’ve aged, though, I’ve come to realize that stories from our veterans are, indeed, vitally important.
Every one of us has a unique story to tell and those stories are what, in the end, capture our collective history.
I hope this project gains some momentum in Oregon and in Eastern Oregon. The sacrifices made by our veterans deserve to be protected and preserved for future generations.
Andrew Cutler is the editor and publisher of the East Oregonian and the regional editorial director for the EO Media Group, overseeing the EO, the Hermiston Herald and four more newspapers in Eastern Oregon.