Last year, when the Missouri Veterans History project was scrapped by the legislature for lack of funding, state representative Jill Schupp (D-Creve Coeur) , in conjunction with the State Historical Society at the University of Missouri.
In the past 6 months, the newly reconstituted project has captured the oral histories of approximately 30 veterans, mostly in the Columbia area. This past weekend, the project shifted its attention to St. Louis veterans.
Rep. Schupp was on-hand Saturday morning to welcome 25 area volunteers at Creve Coeur's . This was the first such training session held in the St. Louis area.
Schupp told the group, "I'm pleased to say we have now been incorporated as a 501 (c)3, which gives us non-profit status and enables us to start forming a statewide organization. Our mission is to capture as many veteran's stories as possible on-tape and send those stories to both the United States Library of Congress and also the Missouri Historical Society, where they will be preserved for future generations."
The training session was presented by Jeff D. Corrigan, an oral historian at the Missouri Historical Society. Corrigan said such projects are especially important to historians and researchers because they represent first-hand accounts of events that changed history. Earlier this month, Frank Buckles, a native of Bethany, MO and the last American veteran of World War I, died at age 110. Fortunately for future researchers, Buckles had participated in a number of similar oral history projects and his story will live on. It is now World War II veterans who are rapidly becoming endangered species'. "Right now we are losing about 1000 World War II veterans each day," Corrigan said. "That's why it is so important we gather their stories and preserve them."
Because the project is linked to the United States Library of Congress, there is a specific protocol that must be followed before submitting taped interviews. Tapes which do not conform to prescribed standards will be returned. Saturday's session guided volunteers through those standards, set forth in the so-called "field kit" issued by the Library of Congress. For those who could not attend the training session, that field kit and a detailed list of instructions is available on-line.
One of the volunteers in attendance was Norma Jean Downey, a retired special education teacher from Creve Coeur. Downey volunteers at the Missouri Veterans Commission's St. Louis home in Jennings. She has spread the word about the project to veterans living in the area and estimates at least 100 veterans, including 19 women, are eager to participate. "They really want their stories told. They're so excited about this, they just can't wait," says Downey.
John Gould, a veteran from Ladue, is serving as the St. Louis area coordinator, working with veterans' organizations to line-up participants. "We know we have far more people wanting to participate than we have volunteers to take their stories," Gould says. "But we just want to get started. In the next five months, we hope to have 30 to 40 veterans' stories on tape." Each interview must be a minimum of 30 minutes, but most last far longer, once the veteran starts sharing their story. The Library of Congress also accepts original artifacts; photos, maps, letters, commendations, etc. in conjunction with the interview. However, it is important to note note only originals are accepted.
The Missouri Veterans History project is in the process of launching a new website. In the meantime, those interested can contact Rep. Jill Schupp's office at the state capitol.