Preserving the Stores of America’s Wartime Heroes

In August, American veterans from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War and the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan sat down with volunteer court reporters to tell their stories as part of the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project (VHP), a program mandated by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton in 2000. Participating veterans represented the U.S. Army, Navy and Marine Corps. They were interviewed at a special VHP Day, sponsored by the National Court Reporters Foundation (NCRF) as part of its Oral Histories Program during the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) 2013 Convention & Expo in Nashville. These oral histories will be added to the collection of more than 3,000 war stories that NCRF has already recorded for the Library of Congress.

This is the 10th year in which NCRA members have supported the VHP through the foundation’s efforts. Court reporters, as well as court reporting students and other NCRA members, are encouraged to volunteer their time and skills to transcribe the recordings of these interviews verbatim. The transcripts, as well as the audio and videotapes, are cataloged by the Library of Congress and are made available to the public.

“The National Court Reporters Foundation is the charitable arm of the professional association for stenographic court reporters, and VHP is one of its highest-profiled programs. Steno court reporters have the unique talent to record and transcribe the spoken word almost instantaneously, and NCRF serves as the conduit between them and the 85,000 recorded stories at the Library of Congress. Since 2011, the NCRF has made a special effort to collect the recollections of DAV members through a grant from the DAV Charitable Service Trust,” said B.J. Shorak, deputy executive director of NCRF.

“The experience is one that deeply touches both the veterans who are interviewed and the court reporters who listen to and transcribe their stories. Both parties know these accounts will be forever preserved for future generations,” Shorak added.

At NCRF’s VHP Day in August, former U.S. Marine and disabled veteran Stephen Cochran shared his story of serving as one of the first special troops deployed at the start of the conflict in Iraq. After serving a tour there, Cochran, a Nashville-based country musician, was deployed for a second tour, this time to Afghanistan, where he was critically injured by an improvised explosive device while on patrol. Flown home to recover at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Cochran was told the broken back he sustained would prevent him from ever walking again. Despite that diagnosis, he did learn to walk again after a successful surgery. When not recording music, he now spends much of his time supporting programs that serve injured veterans and their families.

“I think the Veterans History Project is vital, not just for preserving the stories of our military men and women, but also for providing a resource for other service members and those who have returned injured—whether physically or mentally. They will know they are not alone in what they are facing,” he said.

For Cochran, who also has posttraumatic stress disorder, the healing process is long, and his message hits home hard. “Every day, 22 of our soldiers commit suicide. It’s heartbreaking. But it’s heartening to know, too, that just one soldier reading these stories could be consoled by knowing that they are not alone in going through the physical and mental injuries caused by wartime service.”

In 2007, the VHP was expanded through the 1,000 Voices Initiative, which encouraged members of the public to interview any wartime veteran they might know. To assist them, the Library of Congress offers a free, downloadable VHP Field Kit that includes sample interview questions and a questionnaire to gather basic information such as a veteran’s branch of service, the wars in which they served and any medals and commendations they may have received for their service. The field kit is available online at www.loc.gov/vets/kit.html.

Court reporting schools and state associations of court reporters are also encouraged to host VHP days in their communities to help maintain a flow of interviews to the Library of Congress’ archives. Many veterans have never made any formal record of their wartime experiences but are willing to talk with someone who will listen. VHP continues to play an important role in preserving their stories.