McLean Haughey's grandfather, William Martin Jr., served during World War II as an Army colonel. So when McLean contemplated ideas for his Eagle Scout project, the 17-year-old knew exactly what he wanted to do. ¶ He wanted to record his grandfather's story, and the stories of other veterans, for posterity through the Library of Congress' Veterans History Project. ¶ "I thought, what better way to honor my grandfather and all the men and women who served?" McLean said. "I contacted people I knew who had participated in the Veterans History Project, and they gave me the number for the Library of Congress, which connected me with veterans in Florida."
McLean, who joined Cub Scouts in first grade and Boy Scouts in fifth, is a member of Troop 53 in Tampa. The Plant High School junior spent hours interviewing World War II and Vietnam veterans.
The Veterans History Project collects and makes accessible the personal stories of American war veterans, from World War I through the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. Also included are the stories of civilians directly involved in supporting those war efforts. The goal is to give future generations the opportunity to understand the realities of war by accessing audio and video recordings of those involved. The project, created by Congress in 2000, also accepts memoirs, diaries, maps and original photographs and letters.
Troop 53 Scoutmaster Larry Wilder has known McLean since 2004 and considers him an exemplary Scout, defining what is right with Scouting and the country.
"He has always been a leader among the boys and has seldom taken the orthodox path," Wilder said. "His decision to record the veterans' stories was not a typical Eagle project, but McLean is not a typical Eagle Scout. He has the foresight and understanding that compelled him to choose his project. It is a project that will prove to be a positive reflection of these veterans' stories that may not have been told if not for his efforts."
McLean spent almost six months working on the project, interviewing 11 men and women. Although he initially made a few mistakes, he learned quickly.
The Veterans History Project has specific requirements for veteran interviews.
"If they're not met, (the interviews) will get mailed back to you," McLean said. "I was unaware that you cannot submit interviews of active-duty veterans, who have been deployed and come back home, but are still active in the military. I interviewed two active-duty guys."
But it wasn't a waste of time. Not only did he learn from those men, but once they do retire, their stories can become a part of the Veterans History Project.
That's all McLean wanted — to tell their stories. He wasn't looking to draw attention to himself, but to his surprise, he got noticed. While attending an Honor Flight presentation in Clearwater, Col. Robert Patrick, director of the Veterans History Project, presented McLean with a certificate of appreciation.
McLean feels honored, but his focus remains on the veterans he interviewed, like retired Marine Cpl. Ron Ponton, who served in Vietnam. McLean learned what soldiers went through and how they managed, survived and lived to tell about it.
"That's the point of the Veterans History Project, to make sure future generations, researchers and anyone doing reports in school have access to firsthand accounts of what these men and women went through," McLean said.
He also interviewed retired Major Linda J. Pugsley, who served 10 years in the Air Force as a flight nurse. She is now a chaplain and lieutenant colonel in the Civil Air Patrol.
Gary Reddick, assistant Scoutmaster for Troop 53, was Scoutmaster for the 2011-2012 term and first met McLean in the summer of 2010, when Reddick's son went from Cub Scouts to Boy Scout Troop 53 at Palma Ceia United Methodist Church in Tampa. He was impressed that despite a four-year age difference, McLean provided kind acceptance and guidance to his son and other new Scouts.
"Even with many competing interests, McLean has proven to be a loyal Scout," Reddick said. "He cheerfully provides leadership, leading both by example and giving directions and help to others in the troop . . . I recognize that the stories recounted by our veterans are valuable pieces of history, and I am very pleased that McLean's efforts will ensure that these pieces of history can now be shared with many others through the VHP."
Congresswoman Kathy Castor met McLean to accept his taped interviews and present them on his behalf to the Library of Congress in Washington.
McLean doesn't think he's done anything special. He just wanted to honor those who served. It's his way of paying homage to people like his grandfather.
"These guys are not going to be around forever, especially our World War II guys — unfortunately, even some of our Vietnam guys," McLean said. "Anyone can do these interviews. You don't have to be associated with any organization.
"You don't want to wait around to do it though; you want to get right on it," he said. "The most important thing is to offer these men and women the opportunity to have their personal stories recorded for future generations."