Memorial Day is almost upon us. Here’s a great way to celebrate this special day – talk to a veteran and make some history.
Since 1971, Memorial Day has been designated as a federal holiday to honor those who have died serving their country. Unofficially, this day has been used to commemorate America’s wartime dead since the end of the Civil War. Originally known as “Decoration Day,” both Union and Confederate veterans would lay flowers on the graves of those who died during that tragic conflict. Eventually, the day was expanded to honor all Americans who died from any military engagement in our country’s history.
How many veterans are there in the U.S.?
According to the Census Bureau, there are 21.8 million veterans (as of 2014) in the United States. Sadly, the majority of those who served bravely in our two World Wars have passed on. In fact, we are losing 372 World War II veterans a day, according to one source.
Not all history makes it into the history books. Every soldier who’s ever been in combat…on land, sea or air…has their stories. Unforgettable and compelling stories. Stories that need to be shared and passed on to the next generation.
This country has a long tradition of chronicling the past through “oral histories.” In the modern era, these “histories” have been typically conducted by interviews, and then transposed to audiotape, video or transcription.
How can participate in these histories?
So if you have a family member or friend who has been in combat, invite them to share their stories with you. Ask if you can record the interview for posterity. If you don’t have a video camera or a tape recorder, most cell phones these days have terrific video and audio capabilities.
Some veterans can be camera-shy or very protective of their privacy, so tread lightly. Some might be still traumatized by what they experienced in combat and could be reluctant to revisit traumatic war memories. If so, you should respect their wishes.
Conversely, some vets might welcome the opportunity to unburden themselves and share their wartime memories to a sympathetic audience. The bottom line…you won’t know until you ask. But if you’re fortunate enough to find a willing participant, the experience could be very rewarding.
What sort of questions should I ask?
There’s no hard and fast rule here. It might make sense to have a few establishment question on paper, at the ready, such as “What branch of service were you in?” “What years did you serve in the military?” “Where were you stationed?” “Did you have to fight overseas?” “Is there a wartime memory that sticks out?” These types of questions could get the ball rolling. Or you might let your subject take the reins and just start talking. Be patient and understanding. Sometimes just listening is best part of the journey.
To all the families out there who have served in the military, past and present, we at AccuQuote honor your service. And your stories.