Military memories; Local veterans share stories aloud with local library

IMG_5190.jpgweb
Photo by Sue Suchyta
Riverview library director Kirk Borger views some of the military memorabilia displayed as part of the library’s veterans oral history project. To learn more, call the library at 734-283-1250 or go to www.riverviewpubliclibrary.com.

By SUE SUCHYTA
Times-Herald Newspapers

RIVERVIEW – Sometimes hearing local veterans’ spoken stories leaves a more lasting impression than reading words on a page – and is an important source of oral histories.

“I believe it is important to actually see and hear the recollections of those who served,” said Michael Candela of Riverview, who served in the United States Air Force for 18 years. “The recordings seem to carry more weight than words in a book.”

Candela’s oral history and other’s stories, part of an ongoing digitized video collection, are online at www.riverviewveteransmemorial.com, a project begun by library director Kirk Borger.

With the Riverview Veterans Memorial located next to the Riverview Public Library in Young Patriots Park, at 14300 Sibley Road, Borger said last spring he began to think of ways the library could become more involved in the local Memorial Day celebration.

Borger said local veterans organizations approached him several years ago to use a library glass showcase to display military uniforms and a plaque bearing the names of Riverview military personnel who died in the line of duty, including one who was missing in action.

The veterans also assembled a binder with information on each fallen veteran, which prompted Borger to launch the local veterans’ memorial website, which is also now a repository for veterans’ oral histories. Library staff member Whitney Jones built the website.

Riverview has wanted to reach out and recognize the veterans more in recent years, Borger said, which encouraged him to begin interviewing local veterans. Marjia Makeska of the city’s cable department digitally records, produces and edits the segments, which also air on local cable in addition to appearing on the website.

While World War II and Vietnam War era veterans have recorded their stories, Borger has not yet interviewed any veterans who served in Korea, the Persian Gulf, Iraq or Afghanistan.

“We would like (to interview) World War II veterans only because every year there are less and less of them,” Borger said. “We would definitely like to have a record of them. But any veteran, whether combat or not, I would like to interview them.”

He said he has found that Vietnam War era veterans are somewhat more reticent about speaking than others. He said he has talked to many who have come into the library who tell him they think the project is great, but because the draft compelled them to serve and their feelings about the Vietnam War have changed over the years, they are more hesitant to share their stories.

Borger publicized the project in local papers, at Riverview City Council meetings and on local cable television.

He said Karen Roberts, activities director at a senior independent and assisted living facility in Riverview, has referred about half of the interviewed veterans.

Most of the veterans just like talking about their general experiences, and the questions encourage them to recall past events they may not have thought about in years or even shared with their families before, Borger said.

He said he prompts the subject with select questions drawn from the Library of Congress American Folklife Center Veterans History Project at www.loc.gov/vets/vetquestions.html.

“A lot of the time some of the veterans are more eager to talk than others,” Borger said. “Some, I think, want to talk but they are not quite sure so you kind of have to bring it out (of them).”

He said a common theme that emerges during the interviews is that veterans felt their military service helped them to grow up or “become a man.”

“It did transform them, because most of these guys went in when they were very, very young,” Borger said.

He said many had grown up in small towns and had never left their state, let alone the country.

“This was the first time they had encountered a different culture, not as a tourist, but as a soldier,” Borger said. “That’s a different experience.”

He said the interviews have improved as he has become more comfortable in front of the camera. He said the project is open-ended and he plans to continue it because it involves the library in the community and with veterans, providing a forum for them to tell their stories.

“It benefits the veterans (because) it lets them tell their story and there is a record of it for posterity,” Borger said. “Recently one of the people who I interviewed (Don Soules) died suddenly, and Karen (Roberts) … told me his wife loves the video because it is a very recent video and she keeps on watching it. It was something that she appreciated.”

During post-production, Makeska adds photos provided by the veterans that show them when they were in the service.

“The feedback that I have received has been nothing but positive,” Borger said.

He said the veterans interviewed do not have to be from Riverview, and he encourages them to contact him at 734-283-1250 or at kborger@tln.lib.mi.us.

Tags: