Some veterans come home from war with stories to tell, but most return to keep those stories locked away, rarely speaking of their time to even their family and loved ones. These stories of trial and tribulation, however, are valuable, and as time wanders on, they become more scarce than ever before.
With the help of the Iowa Court Reporters Association, DMACC hosted 16 Iowa veterans of different eras to document their stories at the DMACC Newton Campus Friday. The event was part of a national initiative known as the Veterans History Project, an effort by the Library of Congress to collect, preserve and honor those often times untold historical accounts so that future generations can have a better understanding of the realities of war.
“One piece of the project is to capture stories, the other is to honor them, hear their stories,” said DMACC Court Reporting Program Professor and Chair Patti Ziegler. “It was an emotional and inspirational day, not only for veterans but for the interviewers and volunteers.”
The morning started out with a group photo followed by hour-long individual interviews in private rooms with each veteran, an interviewer and videographer. These interviews will be transcribed by the ICRA with copies delivered to the Iowa Gold Star Museum in Johnston, DMACC Library in Ankeny, the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. and to the veterans themselves.
Three Jasper County veterans participated in the Veterans History Project at DMACC — Dean Ward, Donald Gildersleeve and Don Hummel.
Hummel, 89, of Newton, enlisted into the Navy and served as an aviation machinist in the Pacific during World War II. Gildersleeve, 85, of Monroe, enlisted into the Navy and served as a petty officer in the Korean Conflict. Ward, 88, of Newton, enlisted in the Army and served as a sergeant medic in the Pacific Philippines during World War II. Betty Hummel, Donna Gildersleeve and Betty Ward joined their husbands at the event as well.
“Today was really neat and very well planned. I’m very thankful,” Hummel said. “War is not completed. We came to make our leadership understand we did this for a lot of people who can’t.”
After the interviews, veterans had time to visit with family and guests before attending the honorary awards luncheon which included the Color Guard, National Anthem, a recognition of veterans, awarding of certificates and an introduction from Col. Greg Hapgood.
“It is absolutely critical that we capture these stories. What you have done has done really so many important things in this nation. Certainly your actions, your service have provided the freedoms under which we all live and live every day, but the other thing you have done is set an incredible example within your community for others to emulate,” Hapgood said.
He also thanked ICRA, DMACC and the Newton community for its support and recognition of veterans.
The event was a group collaborative effort which involved the ICRA, DMACC and Newton student volunteers. Veterans spoke afterward about the positive experience they had sharing their stories and feeling honored by all involved in the process.
“I liked it. It was really interesting and a good chance to visit with people, especially veterans,” Ward said. “It’s especially important for your family so they know what you did.”
The Veterans History Project was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 2000. This is the first year DMACC has hosted this event and the sixth year the ICRA has adopted the national initiative. Veterans from World War I, World War II, Korean Conflict, Vietnam War, Persian Gulf War and Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts are encouraged to share their stories.
“The stories these veterans tell us are very important because they not only talk about their war experiences but also about their personal stories, life. These are stories we don’t read in history books,” Ziegler said.
DMACC Newton Campus and the DMACC Court Reporting Program hope to make this an annual event at the facility.