The Veterans of Foreign Wars Ohio Department is holding their mid-winter conference in Columbus this weekend. As hundreds of vets milled about during Friday’s events on the North Side, so did a handful of people from a different profession: court stenographers.
The Ohio Court Reporters Association has been volunteering to transcribe the oral histories of veterans for the Veterans History Project.
While they're doing live interviews for the conference, OCRA president Kelly Linkowski says they also work off recorded interviews, all in the service of history.
“We need the searchable context for the text,” Linkowski says. “So while there are videos and there are going to be oral histories, to make it for researchers, for our history, we need the transcripts. And that’s what we do every single day.”
Linkowski says these stories need to be told from a first-person lens.
“When you’re watching a movie, it’s the producer’s story or it’s the journalist’s story,” she says. “Today we’ve interviewed people, and we had a couple that met when they were in the army together and they both gave their engagement story. And they were both two very different perspectives of the same story.”
Linkowski says members of National Court Reporters Association across the country have recorded thousands of those perspectives.
“So even when you hear from the different war, and when you talk to the different veterans that were at different places there, each of them see it differently, and we need those stories,” Linkowski says.
Dan Faulkner, commander of the Ohio Department of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, agrees.
“First of all, and this may sound a little strange, veterans are people. When you say the word ‘veteran’ people think you’re from some planet—some distant country. What you find out is veterans are your schoolteacher, your postman, your parent,” Faulkner says. “Now it becomes something real, something you realize that history is really about people, real people, and their experiences.”
The interviews can also provide an outlet for stories that are difficult to tell otherwise.
“It is an irony that as a person, you’re more apt to relate to somebody that’s a stranger than to somebody you know,” Faulkner says. “You meet a guy in the military, one day you’re talking, you’ll tell him your life story you might not tell one of your family members. For me, for example, my father was a World War II Navy veteran. I don’t have any idea of all the things he did because it may have been difficult for him to talk to me. But he may have talked to somebody he didn’t know and provide that and that’s a history that I don’t have but would like to have had.”
Those personal stories also provide context and meaning to conflicts that most people remain distanced from, Faulkner says.
“You know, you’re reading books about great generals and great operations,” he says. “What you need to read is what each individual veteran did and how those things affected them as people.
First-hand experiences are also crucial to solidifying and maintaining the historical record.
“My wife’s father, he liberated concentration camps, and for all his life he never talked about it. That’s a piece of personal, accurate, correct history that’s never documented anywhere. So when people say, ‘Well that didn’t really happen,’ had he done that, that would have been a guy that was really there and really solid. Not third party, not second party, but first party. And we miss that; we need to document it.”
In 2020, the Ohio Court Reporters Association want to transcribe the stories of 100 veterans, to add to the thousands already in the Library of Congress. After Friday, they’ll have just 91 to go.