Listening is an art

Local volunteers interview vets, preserve stories for future generations

Retired U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Evert “Sarge” Carter takes a break from telling his life story to at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport USO. In Marquette County, volunteers from Marquette County’s Retired Senior Volunteer Program are interviewing veterans about their lives and preserving their life stories through the Veterans History Project, a project of the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center.(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Brigitte N. Brantley/Released)

MARQUETTE — Our veterans have stories to tell — and these stories are important to preserve.

Volunteers from Marquette County’s Retired Senior Volunteer Program, or RSVP, are woking to preserve the stories of our veterans through the Veterans History Project, a project of the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center.

The volunteers interview a local veteran about their experiences, recording and transcribing the interviews, with the final product given to the veteran and their family, as well as the Library of Congress.

This project provides a way to preserve these important stories while honoring the brave men and women who served, said Julie Shaw, RSVP director.

“It’s a way that we can honor our war veterans for their service,” Shaw said. “And to collect their stories and hear about their experiences while they are still among us — what a gift to give to their families, their personal story.”

The Veterans History Project, which aims to perserve the stories of veterans through recorded and transcribed interviews, gives the nation a valuable window in to the lives and experiences of our veterans. (Stock photos.)

Shaw highlighted the service of Linda Dillman, a local volunteer who has been heavily involved in the Veterans History Project and RSVP.

“I’m so grateful for her because I was really concerned that their stories weren’t going to get told,” Shaw said, noting Dillman, who “jump-started” the project again, is “quite the amazing lady, you don’t find volunteers like her every day.”

Dillman says it’s important to collect the stories of our veterans for future generations.

“I feel I am helping the children and future generations of families understand what our veterans went through during the war,” she said.

Shaw says Dillman has “the gift of being able to draw things out,” noting “they can tell her stories that they maybe can’t tell family, sometimes (it) may be a tough discussion to have.”

The Veterans History Project, which aims to perserve the stories of veterans through recorded and transcribed interviews, gives the nation a valuable window in to the lives and experiences of our veterans. (Stock photos.)

The ability to draw a person out is particularly important in this situation, as Dillman and Shaw say wartime experiences can be difficult for veterans to talk about, especially with their families and loved ones.

“Most veterans I have interviewed have told me that they have not shared their wartime experience with their families,” Dillman said.

Shaw says this makes the interviews and stories a valuable gift for families, as these are stories they may have never heard from their loved one.

“What a gift to their families, I know its diffucult to talk about some of the situations they were in,” she said.

Dillman has a special connection to the project, Shaw said, as Dillman’s husband of 50 years is a Vietnam Veteran who went to war twice — he recently received the Upper Peninsula Veteran of the Year award from Gov. Rick Synder.

Shaw said Dillman’s empathy, understanding and kindness make her an excellent interviewer and volunteer.

While many of the stories may involve emotionally-charged subject matter, Dillman says listening and interviewing is “not difficult because I feel it helps them heal from some of the memories that they have kept in the back of their minds.”

The interviews “usually takes anywhere from 45 minutes to 3 hours,” Dillman says, noting that she gives them a choice of meeting at their home, her home or at the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post.

She says every veteran’s story is unique.

“Every story is so different, even if I am interviewing people from the same war,” Dillman said. “They all have their twists and turns.”

Shaw says Dillman’s volunteerism and service to veterans doesn’t stop with the veteran interviews she conducts — Dillman also volunteers at the D.J. Jacobetti Home for Veterans and the Negaunee VFW Auxiliary.

“She goes and works bingo, she makes coffee for them, serves meals to them,” Shaw said, noting that Dillman even woke up early on a recent morning to make biscuits and gravy to bring to the local VFW for the 90th birthday of a local vet she interviewed.

For veterans who wish to share their story through the Veterans History Project, Shaw says they are welcome to call the RSVP office to arrange for an interview, as they are looking for more veterans to participate.

They’re also seeking volunteers to serve as interviewers — Shaw says volunteer interviewers will receive training prior to conducting interviews, emphasizing empathy, understanding, compassion and a sense of humor are beneficial traits for interviewers.

For those interested in learning more about volunteering for the Veterans History Project or any RSVP program, call 906-315-2607, or visit www.co.marquette.mi.us/departments/aging_servicesrsvp_(retired_senior_volunteer_program).php#.WqlCJ4VhtMs

Updated equipment for transcribing interviews and transferring recordings to a digital format from tape was made possible by a recent grant from the Aging and Adult Services Agency through the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Shaw said.

To access and serach the Library of Congress’s entire collection of recordings, transcriptions, photos and other materials from the Veterans History Project, visit https://www.loc.gov/vets/.