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Vets Record War Stories for Archives
Associated Press  |  September 07, 2007

Keith Greene remembers the sandstorms, the swirling red clouds that left grit in everything. Joe Goellner recounts building schools for Iraqi children. Raffi Bahadarian describes fighting to help protect his comrades.

"This isn't about politics or it's not about people back home. It's really not about America or the flag or things like that," said Bahadarian, a Marine sergeant from Pasadena, Calif. "This is about the person next to me on my left and right. It truly does come down to the brothers you're with."

As for MREs, those meals "ready to eat," he says they are not so bad.

The three are among the veterans whose war reflections are being taped and archived by the Library of Congress as part of the Veterans History Project.

It was created by Congress in 2000 and archivists began accepting oral history interviews the next year. Since then, the project has collected nearly 33,000 audio and videotapes - mostly from World War II veterans, but also personal stories from nearly 300 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The oral histories include discussion of the pressure and stress of war and the hardships for families back home. The veterans muse about weapons of mass destruction, the whereabouts of shadowy al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and news media accounts of the war.

For Army Chief Warrant Officer Goellner of Ocean Springs, Miss., the biggest challenge was being away from his teenage son, Andrew. The most rewarding part, he says, was service to his country.

"Sixteen years in the military and I get excited every time I put on my uniform. It's a great feeling," Goellner, an Army intelligence analyst during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, said in his interview for the project.

Asked why he went to Iraq, Goellner said: "So my son didn't have to. That's what it's all about."

Goellner told of building schools in Iraq and helping get businesses up and running. "In time," he said, "you will see a much safer country."

Other veterans shared memories of darker moments.

Greene, now a captain in the Army National Guard, says his toughest times were in July 2003 when fellow soldiers were injured in an attack on their Humvee in Ramadi, Iraq.

He was angry.

"You want to go through and destroy everything in that area but we were not there" for that, said Greene, who lives in Ringgold, Ga. "We wanted to win the people over, not ruin any chance of hope for establishing some sort of democracy there."

Greene recalled sandstorms so thick they blotted out the sun. "You'd walk outside your tent in a sandstorm and you'd be red with the color of sand," he said.

Nearly 260 of the oral histories are from veterans of Iraq and 41 from Afghanistan. The collection has thousands more written memoirs, letters, diaries and other materials donated by veterans and their families.

Several members of Congress who are veterans have recorded oral histories, including Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., and former Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga.

The project includes an oral history from the late Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Art Buchwald, who was a Marine during World War II.

Recorded oral histories date back to the late 1800s, with the invention of the Edison wax cylinder recording machines. Some of the first were gathered by researchers who set out to record the stories and songs of American Indians, according to Peggy Bulger, director of the American Folklife Center, which oversees the Veterans History Project.

"I think that the power of oral history is that you get so much more information from hearing the voice then you do by reading the written word," Bulger said.

Project director Bob Patrick says oral histories are an important tool not only for researchers and educators, but for family members eager to learn about loved ones in uniform.

"It tells the story from the foxhole. It tells the story from the cockpit and it tells the story from the mess tent. Everyone's got a ground-level story about what war is about," Patrick said.

About 4,000 oral histories from the project are available online. The rest are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

Veterans can have a relative, friend or community volunteer conduct the interview. Members of Congress, including House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., have interviewed veterans for the project. Hoyer interviewed one of the famed Tuskegee Airmen - 1st Lt. Curtis Robinson.


On the Net:

Veterans History Project: http://www.loc.gov/vets

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