Preserving the Real Stories
Over the years I have been continually asked, "Why?" "Why do you spend all of this time and energy on collecting all this old military stuff?"
The short answer is … because. As a parent I can use that as a reason. The reality is because I have seen how important it is to preserve the history of our country's service members. The reality takes a little more to explain.
Honoring the memory of veterans isn't something that should only happen on Memorial Day and Veteran's Day. Those are just two days out of the year. After all, a drafted soldier serving during Vietnam served two years in the service protecting our country's freedoms, 730 days. Saying thank you to a veteran on each Memorial Day and Veteran's Day only, a person would only have to live 365 years to thank that veteran for each day that they served. It doesn't take much to just tell a Vet "Thank you. Thanks for all you have done to preserve my freedom." The Veteran's Administration is reporting that we are losing World War II veterans in this country at a rate of over 1,000 a day. How many of those have we missed? You have to remember that once they have gone, it's too late.
A person doesn't have to go very far to find a veteran. They are all around us. They are our neighbors, friends, co-workers, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, sons, and daughters. Many are people that you didn't even know served.
Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Merchant Marines, Reserve Forces, and National Guard. It takes them all to make up the United States Armed Forces. They are each a part of our total security. On the same note, it takes more than one to make up an army. It takes Infantrymen, Artillerymen, Clerks, MPs, Truck Drivers, Engineers, Medics, Radiomen, everyone. It takes them all to make the mission a success.
In this country Movie Stars, Musicians, and Athletes are often referred to as heroes. The "cream of the crop" of today's pop culture. Talking about military heroes it is easy to come up with a list of various people that come to mind; Sgt Alvin York, Audie Murphy, George Patton, Douglas McArthur for some, or even Dwight Eisenhower. Take your pick; they all did some pretty remarkable things to bring them to the stature that they are at in American History. For me, however, I believe that all veterans are heroes. Maybe to a different degree than Audie Murphy or Sgt. York but heroes nonetheless. I think it is downright heroic to answer your county's call whether by enlisting or to answer the call of the draft. They leave their homes and families, the safety of their normal everyday lives to enter the tough & structured world of the US Military. They serve in times of war and times of peace. December 7th 1941, and September 11 2001 both showed us that our times of peace can change to war on any morning. They dedicate 2 to 40 years of their lives to do the job that is needed of them. They didn't do it for the pay, or medals, or glory. It just needed to be done. Many of the World War II vets that I have talked to have said that they just went to do what they needed to do so they could go home, raise families and live the "American Dream". During Desert Storm my cousin served active duty in the US Army in Germany. His wife and kids followed to Germany to live with him in November 1990. In early December 1990 he left to serve in the Persian Gulf. He had to leave his family for the uncertainty of war. Fourteen years later, he went back again. Again leaving his wife and kids, including a 4 month old, behind for Operation Iraqi freedom. How does that compare to an athlete getting paid millions to play a game, or an actor getting paid $7 million to say lines in front of a camera.
This collection that I have compiled over the years doesn't consist only of military "stuff". After my cousin returned from Desert Storm I talked with him about his experiences in the Army and being over there. Hearing these stories made me realize that there was a lot more to the military that what I had read or seen in the movies. I decided that I needed to know more, and went about working on documenting these stories.
I've been fortunate enough to talk with over 500 veterans about their time in the military. Some had a lot to say, some not so much. As I talk with them I have come to realize that our pop culture hasn't shown us the real truth of what is going on in times of war with the military. I have come to realize that basic training isn't quite as depicted in "Full Metal Jacket". Most of the Vietnam veterans that I have talked with have said that "Platoon" is a bit of an exaggeration of what they ever saw. So I have to wonder, what if I never decided to check this out for myself? What if I had let Hollywood and the media teach me about our military and military history? Hollywood is here to entertain us. How can we let entertainment be seen as definite fact?
The reality is that every veteran has a story, all of them. From the Orders Clerk to the infantryman. From the Navy Yeoman to the fighter pilot. The best way to find out the story is to talk directly to them. We can't rely totally on the media and movies to teach us what it is like to be a member of the Armed Forces. Watching TV you will find a plethora of movies and shows about the military and war. My question is what really happened? For me the military items are great, but it is still just stuff. To understand it all, I must still get the stories. The humorous stories, the scary stories, stories of boredom, and stories of sadness. The stuff is great, but to tap the memories is priceless.
You see I can't sit here and tell you what it was like to "go over the top" in World War I. I can't tell you how cold Bastogne was in the winter of 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge - Or if the monsoons of Korea were as bad as the books say. If the jungle in Vietnam was so dense you couldn't see five feet in front of you, or if the sand in the desert really can get into places you didn't even know you had. I wasn't there. What I can tell you is that we do need to try to find out. And we do need to find out from the ones that were there. Many of the veterans can no longer tell us, and unless someone asked, those stories are gone. I'm trying to do what I can to help preserve the real story.