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Veterans History Project preserves military memories

Sarah March never had the chance to hear about her grandfather’s Navy experience, but thanks to the Veterans History Project, her daughter won’t miss out on listening to her mother’s Navy stories.

The Veterans History Project, which began in 2000, is part of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, and any member of Congress can participate by connecting veterans with volunteers who will record their experiences. The goal is to collect personal accounts of American war veterans to serve as a resource for historians. The program was launched in San Diego a few months ago.

March participated in the Veterans History Project, a nationwide effort that’s being led locally by San Diego Rep. Scott Peters. She works as a field representative in Peters’ San Diego office.

March, who was in the Navy from 2004 through 2009, knows first-hand that no military experience is the same as the next. How she experienced her two deployments in the Navy as a woman is much different than what others, including her grandfather, would have remembered, she said.

“I shared a room with 192 other women for six months at a time. It’s an experience and not everyone goes through that,” March said.

March wants to tell her stories about tsunami relief in Sri Lanka and her deployment to Hawaii so that her daughter will be able to look back and know what her mother did and how her experience affected her.

Telling their stories can also serve to help veterans cope with what they went through, March said.

“For veterans, it’s good to talk about it. Not everything was beautiful; not everything was so much fun,” March said.

Students interview veterans and film some of the interviews, said MaryAnne Pintar, district director for Peters’ San Diego office. Veterans are also given the option to handwrite their own stories. The recorded stories are sent to the Library of Congress with visual materials, such as photos and postcards.

“It’s a really wonderful way for high school and college students to learn history in a first-hand account from people who participated in history,” Pintar said.

Pintar said they’re encouraging veterans from all wars to participate because each story is different. About 30 veterans have contacted Peters’ office so far and have been teamed up with partners based on geography – including the Women’s Museum of California, Coronado High School, The Bishop’s School, Mira Mesa High School, Mt. Carmel High School, Poway High School, UC San Diego, San Diego Mesa College, Point Loma Library and Tierrasanta Library – where volunteers record their stories.

Peters said it was the right thing to do in San Diego given there are seven military facilities and many veterans in the congressional district, Pintar said.

The San Diego Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists has also partnered with the Veterans History Project to help collect the war veterans’ accounts.

Those who have a story or know someone who has a story to tell can contact Peters’ office at http://scottpeters.house.gov/contact-me/sign-up-veterans-history. The project is ongoing.

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