1. Military

Library of Congress lets every veteran's story live on

Published Jul. 19, 2012

Harlan Twible has told his story plenty of times before.

The World War II Navy Purple Heart recipient has documented for the Discovery Channel and Good Morning America how he survived the July 1945 torpedo attack that sank the USS Indianapolis.

He has spoken to elementary school children and church members about the 883 men who died shortly after delivering parts of the atomic bomb. And the Sarasota resident documented to local newspapers how he led a group of 317 to survive shark-infested Philippine Sea waters, with shrapnel wounds through his torso, for five nights before their rescue.

Now 90, Twible recently shared his story with local author Don Moore and said it would be the last time he spoke about his experience.

But thanks to the Veterans History Project of the Library of Congress, the former Navy ensign will have his oral history permanently entered in the project's American Folklife Center.

Bob Patrick, director of the Veterans History Project, will formally receive Twible's collection in Clearwater at an educational fundraiser benefiting the Honor Flight of West Central Florida on July 28.

From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Patrick will talk to leaders of the local business, charitable and veterans service community at the Suncoast Hospice in Clearwater.

Patrick also will be in Tampa on July 27 to formally receive WUSF-FM 89.7 reporter Bobbie O'Brien's award-winning series of interviews with Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Rex Temple.

While many heroes like Twible and Temple (who blogged daily during his deployment in Afghanistan in 2009-2010 at afghanistanmylasttour.com) will be honored, the Veterans History Project seeks the untold stories of the more than 200,000 veterans who call Tampa Bay home.

"Every story is important, not just the grand and the glorious," Patrick said. "And anybody can do this. It is so important on a lot of levels."

To date, the project has preserved about 75,000 oral and written histories of veterans of every war from World War I to the current conflicts. It is the largest collection of its kind in American history.

Patrick, a retired Army colonel who served for 30 years, is focusing on Citrus, Hernando, Pasco, Hillsborough, Pinellas, Sarasota and Polk counties because there are so many undocumented stories in this area rich with veterans.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Florida's population of veterans is second only to California's, with nearly 1.65 million living in this state. Local veterans have the unique opportunity to have their experiences recorded concurrently in the Library of Congress and the St. Petersburg Museum of History.

U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, who served in the Army National Guard from 1948 to 1957, is at the core of the Veterans History Project activity in Pinellas County. Many local veterans have recorded their stories for the project at Young's office since it was announced at Bay Pines VA Medical Center last year on Veterans Day.

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Volunteer interviewers from the University of South Florida and USF St. Petersburg have also recorded oral histories in collaboration with the St. Petersburg Museum of History.

"World War I was interesting in many aspects, and we didn't record the stories of the individuals who served, and that's a shame," Young said. "We don't want to lose our World War II veterans and lose their stories. They need to be recorded. We are hearing of some very heroic people. You get more and more proud."

Veterans who are unable to travel can contact their members of Congress to request assistance in being interviewed. In 2000, Congress commissioned the project to ensure that future generations hear directly from those who served and come to better understand the realities of war.

In Tampa Bay, many community sectors are coming together to build a unique collaboration of history straight from the local veteran population. By collecting interviews, letters, diaries, photographs and documents, the Veterans History Project preserves an essential part of America's history.

While anyone is welcome to submit interviews, there is a specific, easy-to-follow format that can be found at loc.gov/vets. Or, for groups that can organize 30 or more oral histories, Patrick will help with educational seminars in any part of the nation.

Patrick says an interview can provide an opportunity to share one's perspective, honor a fellow soldier or provide a picture of daily life in the military for those who may never experience it.

These documentations ensure that generations will be able to walk the steps of the Library of Congress and see the faces of their relatives or other servicemen, hear their voices and forever understand what they did for the United States of America.

"It is the fabric of American history for researchers, but it is so important to families and veterans as well," Patrick said. "In a lot of cases, they've never talked about them before."


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