Thursday, February 28, 2013

Seeking Vets to Share Their Stories

Mary (Jacoby) Hastings
Red Cross Volunteers Recording History

By Mary (Jacoby) Hastings

Gates, U.S. Army, with Vietnamese child in 1970
“They teach us in basic training, ‘Your job is not to die for your country but it is to make the other person die for his.’” These are the words of Vietnam veteran Russ Gates of Dumont, CO, one of dozens of local veterans being interviewed by Red Cross volunteers on behalf of the Veterans History Project, a collection of firsthand accounts from battle-tested U.S. veterans for the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress. American Red Cross volunteers collect hours of such testimony to assist with the Veterans History Project as part of an American Red Cross commitment to support the program through the Red Cross Service to Armed Forces (SAF) division.

Every veteran has a story to tell and in each case, the details vary from heart-wrenching to shocking and, sometimes, even humorous. Whether it is a veteran recalling a fire fight against the Nazis in the French countryside during WWII, a Navy seaman describing taking fire while fixing the radar antenna on a ship, or a member of the U.S. Air Force sharing what it was like to await orders during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the stories provide fascinating accounts of small moments that helped to shape history.

Russell B. Gates, U.S. Army Serving in Vietnam 1970
The Veterans History Project of the American Folklife Center collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war.

What we learn from these war stories is invaluable, such as Gates recounting, “People think about what it was like being scared…what it was like to be in combat when things are going off all around you.” He goes on to say, “It was scary. It was terrifying. You could taste that, but that’s the way it was.” 

The Veterans being interviewed weren’t just the front-line soldiers, but also essential support staff. Lynn English of Denver, CO was a civilian stewardess when the government retrofitted commercial aircraft to transport troops in and out of Vietnam. She volunteered for a year-long Military Air Command tour out of Los Angeles at age 21. She recounted what it was like seeing the pilots emerge from the cockpit—sweat dripping from their faces—after taking fire flying into Vietnam, and how somber the cabin always was when flying soldiers home, their comrades in caskets in the holds below.

Many of the veterans interviewed also have a Red Cross story embedded within their military experience – whether it was the WWII vet who looked to Red Cross care packages to make it through POW camp, or the Vietnam vet who recalls Red Cross clubmobiles that helped raise spirits, or one of today’s more recent veterans who was able to return home for a family emergency thanks to a communication from the Red Cross.

Our Red Cross interviewers continue to seek local veterans to interview for this project. If you are a veteran or know a veteran who would like to share his or her story, please contact Tim Bothe at the American Red Cross to let your voice be heard: or 303-607-4785. To learn more about the Veterans History Project, visit:

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