Wednesday, November 08, 2017

TOP STORY >> Staff trained for Library of Congress project

Leader editor

Three members of The Leader’s newsroom received training Thursday about how to conduct interviews for the Library of Congress Veterans History Project.

Retired Col. Anita Deason led the training session. She is Sen. John Boozman’s military and veterans affairs liaison. Since 2015, Deason has interviewed dozens of Arkansans, many who served during the Second World War, for the Veterans History Project, which began in 2000.

Veterans of all branches and time periods are eligible to be interviewed, and they do not have to be combat veterans.

Deason has focused primarily on World War II as that generation becomes fewer in number every day.

“Sen. Boozman put me on this project to bring new life into it, because Arkansas wasn’t doing too much, but it literally brings new life to veterans and their families, so it’s a beautiful project,” Deason said.

Deason recalled interviewing a 98-year-old World War II veteran who was having difficulty sharing his story. At their first meeting, he had trouble focusing and recalling his military days.

She encouraged the man’s sons to try to help him organize his thoughts. They found a trunk with letters, files and photos from his time in the military, which triggered his memory.

When Deason returned, the man gave a terrific interview, she said. Once it was published, he was invited to participate in a Veterans Day parade and had an outpouring of support from his community.

That’s the kind of effect Boozman was hoping for when he hired Deason in 2015.

“(The senator) wanted Arkansas to be more engaged with the project. He wanted that because his own father died at age 68 or 69. He was a retired master sergeant in the Air Force during World War II, a waist gunner on a B-17, and because his father died so early, he had regrets that he never sat down and had those conversations with him about what it was like,” she said.

“When I heard Sen. Booz-man’s story, it made me step back. I tell people it just kind of gut kicked me because I was the same way. My father served in World War II in the Navy in the Philippines and died right after my 19th birthday (at age 65). I never talked to him (about the war). It filled me with a lot of regrets, too,” Deason said.

“This has been a very personal project. It’s kind of a way to thank my dad,” she said.

An instructor from the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress was sent to Arkansas to teach Deason how to conduct the interviews. About 1,500 veterans from Arkansas have been interviewed for the project.

A dozen of the interviews can be found online at the senator’s website, About once a month a new one is released by Boozman’s office. They are often featured in The Leader if they have a local connection, and many do.

The work is painstaking and time consuming. Deason’s office is swamped with requests to conduct interviews. The senator’s office tries to release one every month, she said.

Deason has other responsibilities in the senator’s office, such as helping veterans with benefits and support services, so she’s limited in how many of the veterans interviews can be done.

In hopes of fulfilling more of the requests, Deason trains people on how to do the interviews.

The Library of Congress wants a precise style. There are three ways to make a submission: Interviews must be at least 30 minutes long, videotaped preferably, but audio recordings are accepted; memoirs of at least 20 pages in length, and a combination of 10 photos, maps, pieces of artwork or military documents.

Submitting memoirs and the group of documents like pictures, sketches and official military letters do not require an interview with the veterans. So family members of deceased veterans can make the submission posthumously.

Submissions in any format require a copy of the veteran’s military release form known as DD 241.

Deason gave The Leader’s Christy Hendricks, Jeffrey Smith and Jonathan Feldman the Library of Congress Veterans History Project field kits, which are information booklets detailing submission requirements and the more than 30 suggested questions that should be asked.

Deason gave tips to The Leader staff on how best to do the interviews and shared her experiences and common distractions, such as grandfather clocks and rocking chairs that can take away from the quality of the interview.

She directed reporters to local chapters of the American and Veterans of Foreign Wars to find veterans to interview.

“I like to get those people who don’t get any recognition. There are a lot of great stories out there that aren’t being told because they’re not raising their own hand, tooting their own horn,” Deason said.

Deason told The Leader staff not to overlook veterans who may not have dramatic stories to share. The Library of Congress is a “repository of people’s experiences,” she said so everyone, perhaps unknowingly, may have something to share with historians.

To arrange session for the Veterans History Project, call Deason at 501-372-7153.

To request a Veterans History Project interview with The Leader, call Jonathan Feldman at 501-982-9421 or email