Veterans Day is a time to reflect on ordinary heroes – normal people who do brave and difficult things in spite of fear, to keep others safe and free. Some have done it by choice, and others have been drafted. But men and women from every walk of life have served the needs of their country, at great risk to themselves. It’s easy to see soldiers as people who are out of the ordinary. But this is incorrect – they are normal citizens who put on the uniform, just like their non-military countrymen. And in a way, this makes their courage more profound.
There are lots of ways to honor veterans – parades, monuments, ceremonies – but one of the best ways is with understanding. And that’s where a library can come in handy. Sure, you probably know a lot of veterans. And some of them may feel comfortable sharing their experiences with you – but many others won’t. So, to truly learn what life was like for a veteran, oral histories are an amazing resource. IU East has a number of these in our archives – but there are plenty online, as well. One database we subscribe to is Oral History Online, which collects the stories of almost 10,000 people. All are fully transcribed, and many include the original audio or video.
And there are many others on the free web. Check out the Veterans History Project from the Library of Congress. It covers from World War I to the present conflict in Afghanistan, and is a growing repository – instructions are even included if you wanted to conduct an interview and submit it to be part of the collection. The Military Oral History Project is another huge repository, searchable by name, date, place of conflict, service branch, and other keywords. It covers from World War II through the present, although the emphasis is on the Cold War era. Another repository is Vietnam Era Oral Histories, produced by the Ball State University Digital Media Repository. It includes dozens of Vietnam veteran’s oral histories, in transcript and video.
This Veterans Day, try honoring one specific veteran by learning more about him or her. Learning about a veteran might be the best gift you can give!
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