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SCV records pieces of history

Community participates in Veterans History Project established by U.S. Library of Congress

Posted: February 23, 2009 12:38 a.m.
Updated: February 23, 2009 4:55 a.m.

An Honor Guard made up of veterans from the American Legion Post #507 and the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 355 open an event dedicated to veterans at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center.

 

When veterans return home from war, they return from their own, personal war.

Veterans bring back their own experiences, memories and stories.

Each story is important and needs to be recorded.

The United States Library of Congress, realizing with each passing day these untold stories vanish, created the Veterans History Project.

This national project, established in 2000, "collects and preserves the remembrances of American war veterans and civilian workers who supported them," according to the Veterans History Project Web site.

The project collects remembrances of those who served in World War I, World War II, the Cold War, Korean War, Vietnam War, Persian Gulf War (1990-1995), or Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts (2001-present).

The project doesn't discriminate against those who didn't serve either. It welcomes stories and materials from the home-fronts just as much as from the battlefields.

Civilians who were actively and professionally involved in supporting war efforts, as war-industry workers, flight instructors, medical volunteers, etc., are also invited to share their valuable stories.

These collections of first-hand accounts are archived in the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress "for use by researchers and to serve as an inspiration for generations to come," according to the Web site.

VHP collects and archives the one-of-a-kind stories that represent the diversity of the veterans who served the country - veterans from all conflicts, from all branches of the military, all ranks, all races and ethnicities.

The project depends solely on volunteers to get these stories recorded on behalf of the Library of Congress.

Herby Hightower, heavily involved in the veteran community, decided to bring the project to the forefront here in SCV.

While making copies of a Veterans History Project flyer at Kinkos, he met Morris V. Deason, a WWII veteran, making copies of some aviation photographs.

Exchanging some words, both men left Kinkos on the same page: to get the Santa Clarita Valley on the Veteran History Project bandwagon.

"We lose 1,500 veterans a day," Deason said. "We're focusing on getting their stories before something happens."

Deason introduced Hightower to the president of College of the Canyons, Dr. Dianne Van Hook, who introduced the men to Dr. Patty Robinson, the dean of social sciences and business at the college.

Robinson networked through her department and invited Hightower to faculty meetings in order to offer the opportunity to get involved in the project.

The offer was well received.

Mary Valentine, a sociology instructor at COC, is one of the professors who decided to involve her students with the project.

One of the classes she teaches is Introduction to Research.

"I thought this would be a wonderful opportunity to teach my students how to conduct interviews," she said. "It's a really valuable way to learn not just a skill, but also history."

Valentine decided to incorporate the project into her course curriculum, sending students out to interview local veterans and their experiences on the battlefield.

Some students, according to Valentine, seemed to be reluctant due to interview jitters.

But as soon as they tamed their butterflies and conducted the interviews, they returned excited and fulfilled.

"They come back transformed," Valentine said. "They come back and say it's one of their greatest experiences, ever."

COC's involvement also gave youngsters the opportunity to connect with the senior community.

"[The project] gave them a bigger appreciation for the elderly," Valentine said.

"The emphasis is to bring these stories to the younger generation," Robinson said.

A lot of students decided to interview family members they knew played a role in a war.

After the interview, most walked away with a stronger bond and a better understanding of their family history.

"Students who interviewed family members came away learning new things about that family member," Valentine said.

This semester is Valentine's fourth semester incorporating the project in her syllabus.

When students don't know who to interview, Hightower helps find local veterans.

"When I need 20 more names I call Herb Hightower," Valentine said. "Within the next few days, he gets them to me."

Hightower is grateful for COC's cooperation and involvement in the national project.

"COC has become a great partner," Hightower said.

At the end of each semester, Valentine bundles all the interviews her students conducted and sends them to the Library of Congress. Each veteran interviewed also gets a copy of their own interview.

Once the Library of Congress receives the piece of history, it sends a confirmation note to the veteran.

The Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center and Santa Clarita Historical Society also jumped on the bandwagon, recruiting and encouraging seniors to come out and share their memories.

"It snowballed through the community," Hightower said. "I'm thrilled with the support from so many different outlets."

"This is a nice collaboration of Santa Clarita to give something back to the community," Robinson said. "We want this to keep going."

There is no deadline for participating in the project. To participate, contact Herby Hightower at (661) 299-1487, vbtwz@earthlink.net or Patty Robinson at (661) 362-3992. For more information regarding the project, visit www.loc.gov/vets.

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