In its 19th year, the Veteran Oral History Project at the National Guard Militia Museum of New Jersey in Sea Girt marches on. All branches of service and many different conflicts are represented, from World War II to the present, in the project’s collection of interviews. Young and old and men and women alike have told their service stories at our museum. Some have brought wrinkled photos, others slides, and still others have clicked through their laptops to extract memorabilia to enhance their interviews, which are valuable primary sources for future historians.
All veteran oral history sessions are filmed and the veteran receives a copy of his or her interview encapsulating their military memories, the stories of their sacrificed youth. The interviews are shared with the Library of Congress Veterans History Project and some have been digitized for online viewing in the library’s database.
Sharing these interviews with the Library of Congress project requires paperwork which must accompany the interview when it is shipped. The process involves watching the recording and taking notes, so that future researchers can readily view key quotes and topics covered by the veteran. Copies of letters and memoirs are logged, as are photographs, diaries and service records. In conclusion, a brief summary of the interview is produced and, along with relevant scanned photos, as well as links to digitized interviews, websites and articles on the veteran are posted on our website.
This labor-intensive work is beyond the time available to the museum assistant curator who supervises the program. Because of that limitation, interns and volunteers are welcome to work on the project in the museum office. Without this assistance, much of the work might not be completed in a reasonable amount of time.
For several years now, Monmouth University’s oral history class has assisted with the tasks outlined above, including writing initial oral history summaries, logging interviews, and preparing packets to ship to the Library of Congress. According to Professor Melissa Ziobro, who teaches the class, “Partnering with the Museum allows my students to test their mastery of skills learned in our textbook, while doing meaningful work for the Museum. They are always so conscious of the fact that this is not some throwaway project — the work is a part of the historical record, it’s going on the Museum’s website, it’s going to the Library of Congress. Their sense of pride is obvious. And it really helps prepare them to conduct their own interviews at the end of our semester. I am so happy that we can give them this experience.”
We at the museum owe deep thanks to Professor Ziobro and her students, who are dedicated to performing excellent work on behalf of our veterans and their stories. I’d urge fellow oral historians to partner with students if the opportunity presents itself. It is truly beneficial for all involved, on many levels.
Carol Fowler is the Assistant Curator of Veteran Oral Histories at the National Guard Militia Museum of New Jersey.