Veterans invited to share memories of war

GREENFIELD — U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly is inviting Greenfield veterans to share stories of war as part of a national history project facilitated by the Library of Congress.

Representatives from Donnelly’s office will visit Greenfield on Tuesday to interview veterans as part of the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project, an effort to preserve the experiences of those who served in the military by recording their personal narratives.

The project began in 2000, according to the Library of Congress website. The stories that organizers collect can come from anyone who served in the military, regardless of branch, rank or conflict. They must no longer be actively serving.

In addition to the oral interviews, the project also accepts letters and other written recollections, photos, maps and documents from all American conflicts.

“The men and women who courageously served our country have moving stories to share about their service,” said Donnelly, who is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “It is important that we record their stories so that future generations have the opportunity to learn from the experiences and sacrifices they have made to protect our freedoms.”

The interviews will take place at the Patricia Elmore Center in Greenfield between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. It made sense for the center to serve as host, as it is utilized on a regular basis by many veterans, director Kim Voorhis said.

Hancock County historian Joe Skvarenina has participated in the project in the past as an interviewer. He spoke with roughly 35 area veterans from all wars, he said, from World War II to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Hearing the servicemen and women share their stories gave him incomparable context to supplement the history books he’s studied for so many years.

“They all talk about different things,” Skvarenina said of the veterans he interviewed. “They talked about the culture before (World War II), about coming straight out of high school and going into the war. I spoke with one Pearl Harbor vet that gave such a vivid recollection of what it was like that day.”

Some veterans Voorhis comes in contact with at the center are very open to sharing their wartime experiences, she said. Others are not so willing to discuss those troubled times.

Skvarenina has had similar experiences. Talking about their service came easier to some veterans than others, he said.

World War II veterans were much more open, he explained, because they had more time to process what they had been through. Younger veterans from recent wars have a more difficult time because the memories and the potential pain that accompanies them are fresh in their minds, he said.

“But that’s why this is so important. I think it’s important to have that recollection of these vets and their service time,” Voorhis said. “And I’m sure this is good therapy for them.”

Vernon Township residents and Gulf War veterans Tony and Florence May told their stories last fall when Skvarenina was working on the project.

“From my perspective, the Gulf War was the first war where women were openly engaged in combat, and Tony and I served in the combat zone,” Florence May said. “That was a relatively new occurrence within the military that you had women serving in those types of roles. So I felt like it was an interesting opportunity to go and tell our story.”

Florence May’s father, Vietnam veteran Michael Fleck, also participated in the project. She said a lot can be learned from common experiences of war, not the glamorized versions portrayed in movies.

“A lot of times when you watch the movies or the Hollywood version of war, it’s not the experience of most people,” she said. “War is a terrible thing, and I think the stories that we tell of the common soldier is often the experience of what we lose every time we go to war.”

No matter how hard it may be to recall, each narrative is essential to the country’s history, Skvarenina said.

“If we’re going to get a record of that history, we need to get it now,” he said.

Staff writer Maribeth Vaughn contributed to this report.

If you go

If you go

What: Interviews of veterans for the Library of Congress Veterans History Project

When: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. May 26

Where: Patricia Elmore Center, Greenfield

Details: Representatives from U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly’s office will visit the community in an effort to preserve war history through recording personal narratives. The project also accepts letters and other written collections; photos; maps; and documents from all American conflicts. Interviews are recorded on video up to 30 minutes; written recollections must be kept to 20 pages; and 10 photographs, letters or military documents may be submitted. 

To reserve a spot for an interview: contact Brian Cavanaugh at or (317) 226-5555.

Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or