The Smithsonian Veterans History Project Shirley Burns

My uncle is 83 years old.  Looking back at is life, in 2000 he wrote his autobiography, but deliberately skimmed over his World War II years as a seventeen year old soldier.  In 2006 he wrote a separate autobiography of his life between age seventeen and the day her turned twenty one;,  My husband and I were so involved, the first time we read it that we spent an afternoon taking turns reading aloud.  He titled this work, “A Boy’s Journey Into War.”  He sent a copy to me.

Uncle Bill had trained throughout California and Oregon and at both Camp Roberts and Camp San Luis. He was deployed from Hawaii to various sites in the Pacific. He was on Navy submarines that dispatched his reft to the local islands around the South Pacific so he could single handedly search out the Japanese installations, return to the submarines and report to hid military superiors.  He fought on several islands -Okinawa, Yap. Manus Island and participated in the invasion of Leyte.  In detail, he explained not only what happened. but how he felt then and incorporated now his emotions and meditations.

Over the next few years, I would occasionally read it again.  Talking to him on his once-a-year visits became rich for all of us. But he had only given twenty copies to his family and close friends.  As is true for most veterans of World War II, he seldom spoke of the war.  Modest to a fault, he never considered publishing.  He was a good writer, but had a very small audience.

I started attending Myla Collier’s Life Story course and learned about the Smithsonian Veteran’s History Project through the Library of Congress

This project’s goal is to obtain as much direct information from the veterans and others  who were involved in any war in which the United States participated. This includes both oral history obtained through interviews and any writings, autobiography, letters, poems, as well as memorabilia such as medals and citations.  The materials will be catalogued and ready for researchers.

While I naively thought that all I had to do was to obtain my uncle’s permission and send it in, I quickly discovered that there was much more required.  In fact, the entire kit was some sixteen pages (although I only downloaded seven of them since I did not do any interviewing.)  See How to Participate

Included in the kit are forms needed such as information about the donor (you), information about the veteran, what service he/she was in, what Unit, Division, Battalion, Group, Ship, etc.  Where he served, battles he was in, his medals and awards. A permission from the veteran or his estate.  Special forms for photographs, video and tape interviews.  A complete service record is requested.

There are several pages on how to hold an interview session.  What to say and how to listen.  Even how to set up an interview session for the comfort of the participant.  All materials must be original, no photocopies.

The process, for me. took several weeks.  Bill had done such a thorough job that he had included all the information throughout the text.  I mailed the first set to him and he put the finishing touches like telling just where Leyte is located on the globe.  A final visit from him gave me his permission, a tiny picture of him as a seventeen -year-old  in uniform and best of all, his blessings on having me send the package on to the Smithsonian.

For those without a computer, the mailing address is Veterans History Project, Library of Congress, 101 Independence Ave., SE, Washington, DC 20540-4615

Explore posts in the same categories: Info for Students, Life Story


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