Every day, we lose 294 WWII veterans. And with every veteran that passes, we often lose their story as well. Originally, FirstLantic planned to do a blog about inspirational vets but we quickly realized that there are literally thousands of amazing stories out there and we can’t possibly do the topic justice in one blog. As a result, we switched gears and decided to focus on four platforms that are dedicated to helping to tell as many of these stories as possible. Hearing the personal narratives of veterans not only allows us to experience history through their eyes, but it can be extremely healing for the veterans themselves. It also ensures that we never forget the men and women that were willing to sacrifice their lives for us. Through their oral and video histories, we can honor our veterans every day of the year rather than just the one day that is designated.
Meet 19-year-old Rishi Sharma. This California teen has a mission to interview at least one WWII combat veteran every single day until the last one passes away. Rishi was always interested in WWII and when he realized how many veterans that we were losing each year, he decided to do something about it. He has now made it his goal to tell the story of as many as possible. As Sharma states, “The only reason I am alive today is because of these heroic men. They went in as ordinary boys in extraordinary circumstances and they came out as men”.
This innovative theater program began in 2008 with a simple mission – provide a safe space where members of the military and their families can share their stories. Since their inception, The Telling Project has created over 70 original performances, putting hundreds of veterans and military family members on stage to speak to tens of thousands of their community members. As Army veteran, Scott Owens says “There's going to be somebody in the crowd that's either contemplating asking for themselves or knows somebody that needs to ask for help. With me sharing my story, I know it can inspire those individuals and that outcome provides the healing property for me." The plays are scripted based on actual interviews of service members and each cast member plays him or herself in order to tell their experiences both in war and civilian life. Families often perform as well, which gives them the opportunity to talk about their experiences; the constant worry, the loneliness and sometimes even the anger. The Telling Project also provides vets like Owens a platform to advocate for companies to employ vets. “That in and of itself – ensuring a veteran can take care of himself or his family – that does a lot”.
StoryCorps.org is a non-profit organization whose mission has been to record, preserve, and share the stories of Americans from all backgrounds and beliefs. All interviews are preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. With over 2.7 million men and women having served in Iraq and Afghanistan, StoryCorps began a new initiative specifically to ensure that their stories would not be lost. “The military community knows well the challenges of multiple deployments, combat-injuries, and long-awaited homecomings. Yet few civilians truly understand the complex realities of our troops’ service and sacrifice”.
The Military Voices Initiative provides a platform for these veterans, active service members, and their families to share their stories so that we can honor their voices. StoryCorps recently completed a tour of four different cities where veterans were able to visit in person and be recorded. Although that tour has been completed, they are still dedicated to capturing as many more personal accounts as possible. If you or your family would like to participate, you can still do so by downloading their app.
PBS.org has joined efforts with other trusted public media outlets for a new initiative called Stories of Service. This series of documentaries and special programs connects viewers directly to the powerful experiences of military men and women through a variety of online and offline platforms. As Paula Kerger, PBS President and CEO, states. “As America’s storyteller, we hope to spark conversations in communities and give the public an opportunity to share their personal or family story of service through local events and programs. Across the public television community, stations will be creating their own content and providing resources to returning veterans and their families.” You can browse a list of shows and films available to watch on PBS and you can join the conversation on social media using #ServiceStoriesPBS. There are also resources available on the PBS website for vets in the process of transitioning to civilian life, as well as a portal for teachers that helps them bring military history into classrooms.
In conclusion, as Americans we all owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to our military men and women and their families. While we only have one official holiday dedicated solely to our veterans, storytelling platforms enable us to honor them every day. We hope that you will take the time to support vets in whatever way that you can. Whether listening to their personal accounts, sending a care package, or donating your time, there are many ways that you can get involved. For more information click here or visit the sites below.