University project tells veteran stories

With more than four million veterans living in California, Fresno State students have undertaken the task of recording the stories of World War II veterans.

The Central California War Veterans Oral History Project, which began the spring 2010 semester, headed by Gary Rice, an associate professor for the department of mass communication and journalism, expects to log at least 100 veterans’ oral histories at the end of the first phase.

“Doing this project is like riding blindfolded on a bucking bronco,” Rice said. “I have never been part of anything of this size before.”

The oral history project is funded by the provost’s office.

With many of the veterans at an age where they are dying or no longer able to speak due to illness, it is important to tell their story. The interviews are an hour and a half or longer. Each will have an audio recording and transcript.

“We are trying to create a document that mirrors the words of the veterans being interviewed,” Rice said. “We are doing it in such a way that the words of the veterans will be here forever.”

Many of the veterans were found through veterans organizations and people like Paul Leoffler of the KMJ radio station.

Since the oral histories will be held in the Henry Madden Library indefinitely, historians and researchers as well as students and families of the veterans will be able to use them for their own personal projects.

“We would be placing them in the special collections,” said David Tyckoson, the associated dean of the Henry Madden Library. “Also, putting it on the Web gives access to the unique information.”

Although overseen by Rice and journalism instructor Alice Daniel, the oral histories are student produced.

“The students make the initial contact, set up the interview, and create the transcripts,” Rice said. “It allows them to be the historian.”

Jessica Irwin, 21, a mass communication and journalism major, interviewed a veteran from the Vietnam War.

Going into the interview the students are given a basic set of questions and are expected to add their own personal touch.

“I had to do a lot of research before my interview,” Irwin said. “The veteran I interviewed actually clarified a lot of details that I never knew about.”

Each story that the students hear during their interview varies from veteran to veteran.

“I feel that by listening to our veterans who experienced being their firsthand will make the public more understanding of our military’s importance and significance,” said Karlene Mello, an agricultural education major.

This project was not only an experience for the students, but the veterans as well.

“Being interview was no problem since I have been before,” said Richard E. Newman, an army front-line infantryman. “It was different though. It blossomed and was more than expected. Young people now do not know how much of a disruption of life it was. It turns your world upside down.”

At the end of the project, the students are hoping to have all the veterans gather to meet each another.

The project is ongoing if there is no disruption in funding.

“I would like to see this project run forever,” said Rice.

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