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Recording histories in Garrard

LANCASTER — Tuesday is Veterans Day, but later this month Central Kentucky veterans are invited to share their stories with the Library of Congress.

On Nov. 22, volunteers in Garrard County will gather on the public square in Lancaster to tape record interviews with veterans from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Persian Gulf and the present conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

It's part of the Veterans History Project to gather oral histories from service men and women. Organizers hope to have at least 50 veterans interviewed.

"We want anyone and everyone to be involved. They don't have to be from Garrard County," said Nathan Mick of Lancaster, an organizer of the event. "If folks from neighboring areas would like to participate, they're more than welcome to do that as a volunteer or as a veteran as well."

The Veterans History Project collects and preserves the remembrances of American war veterans and civilian workers who supported them. The firsthand accounts are archived in the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., for use by researchers and the general public.

"It gives something for people 25 to 30 years from now," said Billy Moss, 83, a World War II Marine and former Lancaster mayor. "I'm hoping we can get a lot of veterans enthused about it."

It's not necessary to have been in combat to be interviewed. The project also looks for USO workers, flight instructors, medical volunteers, and defense contractors to share their experiences.

"Every serviceman and woman has a story to share, regardless of whether they were on the front lines, if they were in a supply unit, if they served during wartime or peacetime," Mick said. "It is all part of the fabric of our military history here in America."

Mick, the economic development director for Garrard County, is a former aide to U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Nebraska, who co-sponsored legislation that eventually was signed into law to create the Veterans History Project in 2000.

Mick has overseen similar history projects in which congressional interns conducted interviews in Nebraska and at Bethesda Naval Hospital and Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Mick has encouraged his neighbor, Vietnam vet Ralph Arnold, 64, to be interviewed in the Nov. 22 event. The former Marine is appreciative that people are interested in hearing his story, which is a marked contrast from the reception he received when he came home from Vietnam.

"Coming through the Chicago airport was pretty bad. They had a bunch of people with a bunch of signs and they were calling us all kinds of names," Arnold recalled. "I don't think anybody had any nerve enough to spit on me, but I have heard that it was done."

"I think everybody should serve their country," Arnold added. "I tried to get back into the Marine Corps in 1991 (during the Persian Gulf war), and they laughed at me. Told me I was too old. But I'd rather have gone back than to send these young kids."

Other Kentuckians have been interviewed for the Veteran History Project in recent years, but the Lancaster event will be a "one-day blitz." Mick said. Volunteers will be trained on the morning of Nov. 22, and then they will conduct interviews at various spots on Lancaster's Public Square.

U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Versailles, will be on hand to welcome the veterans and volunteers at a lunch. Chandler's staff helped to promote the event and to find a folklorist to assist in training volunteers to do interviews.

Chandler will then take the recorded interviews to the Library of Congress. Each veteran will receive a copy of his or her interview, and another copy of each interview will go to the Garrard County Public Library.