Yesterday on Memorial Day, I was listening to a podcast that discussed recording interviews with family members who have served in the military. They thought it was an excellent way to honor the vet’s service and to preserve these memories for later generations. I agree wholeheartedly!
It is estimated that World War II veterans are now dying at the rate of 1,000 a day. Some have estimated that by 2020 – only ten years from now – less than 2% of the 14.5 million vets of that war will still be alive. In my own family, my Dad, who was drafted into the Army in October 1940, died in 1981 and my Uncle John, a Navy vet who enlisted on December 8, 1941, passed away in 2008.
While my Dad served 28 years on active duty in the Army, he did it in two distinct segments. The first segment was from 1940 until 1945 during WWII and the second was from 1953 until his retirement in 1972. In between these segments, he served in the North Carolina National Guard while going back to college. Dad spoke of his memories of his second segment of service but never of WWII. He served a good part of WWII in the Caribbean Command – one of the least publicized theaters of the war. Thus, I don’t have thousands of books written on his theater of the war to reference about his service unlike those with relatives who served in the Pacific or Europe.
For those of us who have lost of fathers or grandfathers and didn’t get to really talk to them about their memories, it is still possible to find out about their service. The military records of all US veterans are available from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. The next of kin of deceased veterans are eligible to request a copy of their records. You either fill out a DoD Standard Form 180 or you can just do it online through eVetRecs. I did this for my Dad back in 2004 and got his full military records AND his replacement medals and campaign ribbons. Having his Bronze Star earned during his service in Vietnam is something I’ll always treasure.
In the past, many of this generation of vets came home, got a job (or went to college), raised a family, and never spoke of their military experiences. They just wanted to move on with their lives. Fortunately, the passage of time has given many of these men and women the distance they needed so they can talk about it now.
When you consider that the youngest vets of Desert Storm are now almost 40 and the youngest Vietnam vets are now in their mid 50s, time is of the essence. So sit down with your relatives who served in the military and record or write down their memories now. You may not have tomorrow to do it.
UPDATE: Welcome to the listeners of the GunDudes podcast. I hope you’ll take some time and read some of the other blog posts.