Veterans History Project

Veterans History Project

There is perhaps no better way to learn about history than through firsthand accounts. You get a better understanding of what really happened when you hear directly from those who lived through the events. That’s what the Veterans History Project (VHP)—an initiative that aims to preserve and make accessible the personal accounts of American war veterans—seeks to do. 

Since the VHP was approved by Congress in 2000, over 100,000 veterans have described their service in audio and video recordings that are now part of the collection. Submissions have been archived from veterans of World War I through Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. These men and women participated and witnessed some pivotal events in our nation’s history. 

Arkansans have a long and proud history of supporting our nation’s military. More than 200,000 veterans call Arkansas home, however only 1,200 Arkansas veterans’ stories are part of the VHP collection. I want to make sure this collection includes examples of courage, bravery and service of as many Arkansans who have worn our nation’s uniform as possible. 

Many of us have family members and friends who have served in the Armed Forces. Capturing and preserving their memories is a great way to honor their service and commitment to our country.

For more information on how you can participate in the Veterans History Project, visit

Recent 'Salute to Veterans' Highlights

Debbie Emery knew right out of high school she wanted to continue the example set by her family and enlist in the military. “I graduated high school [in] 1972, I wanted to join then to follow my uncles, my father, my grandfathers,” she said. “I wanted an opportunity to do something with my life.” Click here to read more about Emery's time in service.


Richard McKinney spent much of his Air Force career in a division of the service he says is not usually popular – the Office of Special Investigations (OSI). He grew up in a military household, following his dad’s Air Force career all over the world, and enlisted himself after graduating from Greenwood High School. McKinney attributed his father’s time on active duty to his decision to enlist. “I just kind of grew up and always knew that I liked that military life, I liked that structure. And growing up on the military bases it was just a very natural environment for me.” Click here to read more about McKinney’s time in service.

Major General (retired) Ron Chastain grew up in Branch, Arkansas. After high school he continued his education at Arkansas Tech University where he was required to join ROTC. During his sophomore year, he received a low draft number and continued participating in the ROTC so he could serve as an officer. Because the Vietnam War was winding down by the time he graduated college, fewer lieutenants were needed so he was given the choice of serving for three months or two years. He opted for the shorter service because he had a job lined up with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Unfortunately, a federal hiring freeze postponed the USDA job so he pursued a master's degree at the University of Arkansas. That's where he was encouraged to join the Arkansas National Guard. Once the hiring freeze ended, he started a career at USDA and joined the 39th Infantry Bridge as a lieutenant in the company in De Queen and continued his career as a public servant. During his 38 years of military service, Chastain served in the Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was recognized for his distinguished service with awards including the Army Distinguished Service Medal, two Legions of Merit and two Bronze Star medals. He was also inducted into the Arkansas Military Veterans’ Hall of Fame in 2014. “It’s not always the highest rank that you make that is the most fulfilling. The most fulfilling assignment I’ve ever had was as commander of the 39th Brigade,” Chastain said of his time in the military. Learn more about his military service in this interview.

Ernest Exner grew up in Connecticut in a family of six children raised by a single mom. He aimed to follow his brother’s example and enlist in the National Guard. “I told my mother I’d like to go, she said ‘no,’” but Exner wouldn’t take that for an answer so he changed his birth certificate to reflect he was one year older so he could enlist without his mom’s permission.

His National Guard unit activated during the Korean War. He was committed to his soldiers and wanted to continue serving with the men he trained, but the Army had other plans for him. They “shipped me to Germany. Terrible mistake, wow. Germany had the nicest looking women and the nicest beer,” Exner said. He served as an assistant platoon sergeant in an infantry company conducting patrols along the Austrian border.  

Learn more about Exner's life and how he continued his service with the Coast Guard Auxilary in this inteview

Elesha Granniss has a family history of military service, but she was inspired to serve in uniform after the tragic death of a close friend who had enlisted in the Army and was days away from beginning his service. She enlisted in the Air Force hoping it would open doors for travel, but her first assignment was somewhere familiar. “I wanted to see the world and I got stationed at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama - three hours away from home,” Granniss laughed.

During more than 17 years in uniform, she was able to live in and experience a number of locations across the U.S. and the world during deployments to Saudi Arabia and Iraq. She fondly recalls her time in the military where she was committed to looking out for the individuals she was in charge of. Learn more about her memories of serving in uniform in this interview. Today, Granniss calls Flippin home where she continues her service working as an Arkansas Department of Veteran Affairs District Veterans Service Officer and Arkansas Women Veterans Coordinator.