KNOXVILLE –- Rushing to record oral histories before more World War II and Korean War veterans die, the University of Tennessee has amassed a collection of veterans’ recollections. Foot soldiers, pilots, and army doctors tell their stories, leaving their oral histories as personal monuments.
“The history of the individual struggles of war — the loneliness, the triumphs, the boredom, the fear — disappear as the veterans who served pass away and their papers and records are destroyed,” said Dr. Kurt Piehler, who directs UT’s Center for the Study and War and Society.
Piehler is making UT a national center for veterans’ oral histories and memorabilia. Since its inception in 1984, the Center has received thousands of contributions for its collection.
In his conversations with former soldiers, Piehler brings into focus the long-term consequences of war.
“I’m very careful not to be a psychologist. But many veterans enjoy talking about their experiences and leaving a record for their children and grandchildren.”
Also valuable is the individual take on history, which serves as a resource for scholars.
Piehler says right now, he’s concentrating on the Korean War, which he calls “underdocumented.”
Though war is a terrible thing, not everyone is traumatized by combat, Piehler says. Some veterans were traumatized in other ways, perhaps by the loss of a friend, he says.
“The value of this work is to document the long-term effects of military service and the impact on American society.”
To learn more about the Center for the Study of War and Society, to read some of the collected oral histories, and to see how to participate in the project, see http://web.utk.edu/~csws.
The Center for War and Society has partnered with the East Tennessee Veterans Memorial Association to record the stories and confirm the names of veterans that appear on the new East Tennessee Veteran’s Memorial and Learning Center. For more about this project, see http://www.etvma.org.