Vets' stories needed to keep history alive by David Lias A three-pronged effort has been launched to collect the memories of local veterans – especially those of the World War II era who are becoming a rare commodity – and preserve them for future generations.
The Clay County Veterans Service Office, the Institute of American Indian Studies at The University of South Dakota and the Veterans History Project, created by Congress in 2000 are joining forces here to collect veterans' stories.
The Veterans History Project encompasses veterans of World War I, World War II, and the Korean, Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars.
Leonard Bruguier is director of the Institute of American Indian Studies, and one of the institute's department is the South Dakota Oral History Center.
"Through the oral history center, I was notified by the Library of Congress about the project, and they authorized us to begin collecting stories of our World War II veterans, because we were losing them at a rate of about 1,000 per day."
The scope of the project was later broadened, he said, because so many World War II vets had already died.
"They said that we should also talk to the spouses, and
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memories of the veterans who had passed on," Bruguier said.
He said the Library of Congress is also very interested in hearing the stories of people who worked in war industries to learn how the country united behind the war effort during World War II.
"The South Dakota Oral History Center is very fortunate because we were founded in 1967 by Dean Joe Cash ? who himself was a Marine," Bruguier said. "Since its existence in 1967, the oral history center has collected at least 600 interviews that deal directly with veterans.
"I'm not really sure how many that deal with the different war industries that were in South Dakota during World War II," he said.
Richard Mesmer of Vermillion has agreed to help Bruguier and the oral history center by conducting the interviews with the veterans.
"Once I found that he was interested doing interviews, then I got hold of Ray (Hofman, Clay County Veterans Service Officer) because I felt Ray would have very close contact with many of the veterans here in Clay County."
Mesmer's father's career was in the military, and he was often surrounded by veterans while growing up.
"I thought this would be a great project to be involved in," Mesmer said. "What we need are people who want to tell their stories. Some of them might be painful for some of these individuals to re-live what they went through, but everybody else needs to know their stories."
He said the interviews will be audiotaped, and procedures will be used to protect the privacy of the individuals who choose to get involved.
"The South Dakota Oral History Center has a set of procedures that makes sure we protect the interviews that are given to us," Bruguier said. "In this initial phase, I'm just hoping that we are able to get as many interviews as we can.
"At the oral history center, every year we have at least 50 different people come in and do research with the over 5,200 tapes that we already have."
The veterans' stories will be available at the center.
"They will be available right here in Clay County for people to come in and listen and read the transcripts," Bruguier said. "But this data base also will be carried by the Library of Congress, so I'm envisioning a lot of research being done by legislative committees, veterans affairs committees, and other committees that are intimately involved with veterans' affairs.
"I think that in that sense, it will serve a very good public use for veterans and their survivors," he said.