Today is Veterans Day, the day Americans have set aside to honor the men and women of the military who in ways large and small have helped shape history.
Thirteen years ago, through an act of Congress and with the signature of President Bill Clinton, the Veterans History Project of the Library of Congress American Folklife Center was established.
The oral history project has been embraced by individuals and organizations around the country, including on the First Coast, where as many as a quarter of a million veterans make their home.
Jacksonville resident Marvin Edwards, 92, is a retired investment counselor and a veteran who served as a navigator for the United States Army Air Forces' 492nd Bomb Group.
The branch was the air-arm of the Office of Strategic Services, or O.S.S., the forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Edwards recalled that their missions were always at night and involved dropping bombs and arms, supplies and spies on Europe. He flew B-24 Bombers as well as a British war plane called the Mosquito, and he still gets excited talking about it.
“It was an amazing aircraft made out of plywood. We flew at 450-miles-an-hour and we flew at an altitude of 40,000 feet, which was almost unheard of in 1945,” he said.
Edwards’ war story is one of more than a hundred collected for Community Hospice of Northeast Florida’s Veterans History Project.
“It’s the real history of what happened, you know this veteran’s experience,” said hospice Community Development Officer Tula Wooten, describing how she discovered the project online.
“I thought, we have to do this, because 26 percent of the patients we serve every year is a veteran, and so I thought we’ve got to capture their stories,” she said.
Wooten relies on volunteers to interview and record veterans’ oral histories like Jacksonville realtor David Butler.
Butler says he puts in between five and ten hours a month talking to veterans in their homes or at the Community Hospice facility on Sunbeam Road in Mandarin.
“We follow the guidelines of the Library of Congress, so it kind of is a full life story of these veterans, from where they were born and where they grew up through their military time and then afterwards and how their experience has affected their life,” he said.
Sometimes the questions dredge up powerful, long-forgotten memories that can take a veteran by surprise.
He remembered one interview in particular with Retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Adrienne LaPorte, who served as a nurse with the 93rd Evacuation Hospital in Long Binh, Vietnam.
Butler asked if she had any specific memories that were important to her.
"I had one young man who had hit a claymore mine and he lost a hand on one side and part of his arm up to his elbow on the other side. Both legs were blown off, and nobody gave him much of a chance," LaPorte said.
"But he made it. And he said to the doctor, ‘If I had my hand, I would salute you, but I can’t.’ That was the toughest one. I haven’t thought of that in a long time,” she said, fighting back tears.
The interview with Lt. Col. Adrienne LaPorte, as well as the one with Marvin Edwards, are archived on the Community Hospice Veterans History Project website.
You can get more info on the project, including links to interviews and info on how to register to be interviewed, at VHPFirstCoast.org.
You can follow Cyd Hoskinson on Twitter @cydwjctnews.
Watch a sample interview from the Community Hospice Veterans Partnership's Veterans History Project below: