There are over 20 million veterans in American today, but with over 1,100 war veterans dying each day, there is an urgent need to collect their personal accounts of their war time experiences while they are still among us. There are valuable lessons to be learned and these should be collected by the nation’s library, The Library of Congress. You can help create this historical record by contributing a story or interviewing someone yourself. Capture the oral history of a veteran in your family or community!
The Library of Congress’s Veterans History Project has provided this tipsheet on how to capture veterans’ oral histories on video and audiotape and submitting them to the Project.
6 Steps for Capturing Veterans’ Oral Histories On Video or Audio tape:
1. Finding a veteran.
2. Preparing interview questions.
3. Recording an introductory statement.
4. Conducting an interview.
5. Tips for recording like an expert.
6. Complete forms and submit.
1. FIND a veteran or someone who served in support of veterans to INTERVIEW
Talk to family and friends or contact veterans of all wars through veterans’ organizations. American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), AMVETS, Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Japanese American Veterans Association, Vietnam Veterans of America War, Military Chaplains Association, The Retired Enlisted Association, the Women Airforce Service Pilots of WWII.
2. Prepare INTERVIEW QUESTIONS before the interview.
Conduct background research into the war(s) in which interviewee participated. Have the interviewee complete the Biographical Data Form before the interview; it may help you in asking pertinent questions.
Let the interviewee tell his or her own story.
3. Record an INTRODUCTORY STATEMENT before the interview.
Include the date and place of the interview; the name of the person being interviewed; his/her birth date and current address; and the names of the people attending the interview, including the interviewer and his/her institutional affiliation or relationship to the interviewee and the name of the camera or recording operator if different than the interviewer. For example: Today is Friday, June 7, 2002, and this is the beginning of an interview with John Smith at this home at 123 Apple Lane in Pleasantville, Maryland. Mr. Smith is 78 years old, having being born on November 23, 1923. My name is Jane Doe, and I’ll be the interviewer. John Smith is my uncle. He is my mother’s brother. Uncle John, could you state for the recording, what war and branch of service you served in? What was your rank? Where did you serve?
If interviewing a veteran, identify what war and branch of service he/she served in, what was his/her rank, and where he/she served.
If interviewing a civilian who served in support of the armed forces, ask what type of work he/she performed, where he/she served, and during what war.
4. CONDUCT the INTERVIEW.
Use a quiet, well-lit room for the interview. Avoid rooms with fluorescent lights, chiming clocks, or heating and cooling systems that are noisy. Both the interviewer’s questions and the interviewee’s responses should be heard.
Keep questions short. Avoid complicated, multipart questions.
Don’t ask questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no,” but ask “how, when, and why” questions.
Keep your opinions out of the interview; don’t ask leading questions.
Encourage the interviewee with nods of the head rather than audible responses such as “yes” or “uh huh” that will be recorded.
Be patient and give the interviewee time to reflect before going on to a new question.
Use follow-up questions to elicit more details from the interviewee. Examples of good follow-up questions include: When did that happen? Did that happen to you? What did you think about that? What are the steps in doing that?
Ask the interviewee to show photographs, commendations, and personal letters as a way of enhancing the interview and jogging their memory.
Note: If you are planning to submit the oral history you recorded to the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project, only one recording can be accepted for each veteran or civilian interviewed and it is NOT to exceed 90 minutes.
5. TIPS FOR RECORDING LIKE AN EXPERT
RECORDING MATERIALS: Use the highest-quality video or audio recorder and microphone(s) available. Digital and Hi-8 video recordings are preferred. For sound recordings, use standard cassette tapes (preferably those constructed with five screws) and good external microphones. All recordings should be made at standard speed (SP).
WHEN RECORDING VIDEO: Mount the camera on a tripod and position it a few feet from the veteran. Focus primarily on the interviewee’s face, upper body, and hands, and avoid frequent use of the zoom feature.
WHEN RECORDING AUDIO: Use an external microphone positioned as close to the interviewee as possible. Do not hold the microphone, use a microphone stand if possible. Be cautious when using the internal microphones that come in many recorders; these pick up noise from throughout the room.
6. COMPLETE FORMS AND SUBMIT to the Library of Congress.
After the interview:
Remove or set the tabs to prevent accidental recording over the original.
Label the recording by printing the full name of the interviewee and the month/day/year of his or her birth; label the tape housing itself, as well as the plastic container or cardboard sleeve.
Consider creating a transcript (a word-for-word written copy) of the taped interview on paper or computer disk.
Complete the required release forms, Biographical Data Form, Audio and Video Recording Log, the Photograph Log and Manuscript Data Sheet; forms can be downloaded off the VHP Web site: http://www.loc.gov/vets
All materials and required forms should be sent to: The Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center,
Library of Congress, 101 Independence Ave., SE,
Washington, DC 20540-4615.
Note: Our U.S. Postal Service mail is subject to security screening procedures which may damage your submission. Send recorded interviews and collection materials to us through commercial services such as Fed Ex, UPS, or DHL, or deliver them in person if you live nearby.
Credit: This is an excerpt from a larger toolkit developed by the Veterans History Project. The Veterans History Project was founded at the Library of Congress’ American Folklife Center to honor veterans and their contributions to American history and freedom. It is a national effort to collect and preserve the personal accounts of war veterans from World War I, World War II and the Korean, Vietnam, and Persian Gulf Wars and those who supported them, by video- or audio-taping interviews with them, and collecting their written memoirs and other materials that document their experiences. The Library of Congress is then cataloging all entries to create a comprehensive, searchable, national database for future historians, educators and students. More information is available including Project Instruction Kits at www.loc.gov/vets or call 1-800-315-8300.
America’s National Library
The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library and a great resource to scholars and researchers. It is recognized as the national library of the United States. It has more than 120 million items on approximately 530 miles of bookshelves. The Library was founded in 1800, making it the oldest federal cultural institution in the nation.