Former Marine Corps Sgt. Lou Seago had so many close calls in World War II that he almost didn’t make it home alive. And if it weren’t for the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project, his tales of fortitude might have been forever lost.
The project, initiated in 2000, now showcases more than 70,000 oral histories — soon to include Seago’s stories of Saipan and Iwo Jima — along with photographs, letters, journals, artwork, military documents and other original war-related items from veterans of numerous wars throughout American history.
With help from local institutions across the country — such as Douglas County Libraries — those oral histories and original materials are being collected before time runs out for older veterans such as Seago.
Before shipping the documents and interviews away to D.C., the library district also retains copies of all area veterans’ histories at the Philip S. Miller Branch in Castle Rock, and visitors can make an appointment to view them at any time. One can also listen or read the transcripts of close to half of the 100 veteran interviews already done by visiting www.douglascountyhistory.org.
“We try to play the role of facilitator,” said DCL archivist Adam Speirs. “We create the space where these things can happen, but it’s a volunteer-driven project, we have volunteer transcribers, we have volunteer interviewers, the people being interviewed are volunteering to participate in the project, and what we do is make sure all the paperwork gets filled out and everything is preserved correctly.”
Since the start of the project, Speirs said, the library was getting about one or two veterans coming forward per month. However, with some special thanks to Wind Crest resident and former Air Force Maj. Cliff Butler, that number is climbing fast.
Butler, who has made his home at the Highlands Ranch community for just two months, has already rounded up 25 willing veterans from his new home to participate and plans on getting as many people involved as possible.
“We need to preserve these stories for the sake of history,” said Butler, whose familial military lines are traced back all the way to the Civil and Revolutionary wars. “Kids nowadays don’t realize when they look at people like Lou that if it weren’t for them they would be speaking German or Japanese. It’s a way of honoring these guys. A lot of them don’t even realize how valuable their story is to our history.”
“A lot of people say, ‘I didn’t do anything, you don’t want to hear my story,’ but we want to hear everyone’s stories,” Speirs said. “I can’t tell you how much we’ve gained from it. The more stories I listen to the more I realize how totally alien that reality is from my personal reality. This depth of human experience would be inaccessible to me if it hadn’t been for this project. ... You don’t just stop people in the street and say, ‘Hey tell me about your story.’ You need a place for this to happen.”
The library will celebrate its 10th year of involvement in the project from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Nov. 16, at the Philip S. Miller Library, 100 S. Wilcox St. in Castle Rock. Local veterans who have participated will share their experiences, while a group called Remembering Our Veterans will demonstrate how they share veteran stories. All are welcome to attend the celebration.