Weekly Columns

There are a number of days in August that are important in military history and recognize the service and sacrifice of our heroes in uniform – from remembrances of V-J Day and recognition of Purple Heart recipients, to learning about the role of Navajo Code Talkers. We are surrounded by people who gave their time, talent and even their lives to defend our nation and ensure liberty for future generations. Honoring their bravery must always be a priority. 

I enjoy sharing the stories of Arkansans who have worn our nation’s uniform in a feature my office calls “Salute to Veterans.” Each edition features excerpts from video interviews conducted by my office for the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project (VHP), a program we’ve participated in for more than a decade to preserve their firsthand accounts of their time serving our country and learn from their testimonies. 

This initiative has cultivated the largest oral history collection in the world, but Arkansans might be surprised to know how difficult it can be to get veterans to share those stories.

In fact, when I suggest to veterans that they share their memories and be interviewed for the project, the response is almost always the same: “I didn’t do anything” or “my story isn’t important.”

Their humility and reluctance, though admirable, are obstacles that have to be overcome. The reality is every story of service helps portray the experience of American servicemembers. For every front-line infantryman or fighter pilot or battlefield General, there are trainers, logistics specialists, intelligence officers, cooks and quartermasters. Countless people make everything possible. 

My staff recently interviewed three veterans who all said their stories weren’t important enough to be included in the VHP – a WWII Navy signalman who traveled around the world on ships delivering supplies to our troops, a Korean War airman who taught math to Air Force recruits as part of their basic training, and a Vietnam War pilot instructor who gave numerous aviators their first flight hours in a T-37. These stories give a full view of what is necessary to ensure our Armed Forces are always ready to defend our nation and interests from any threat. 

They also help paint a picture for future generations and their families about how experiences in the service shaped their lives or helped them discover important things about themselves. 

In today’s military, some of the answers to the questions of what to expect if I serve and how can my skills contribute are very different. Recently I’ve met ROTC cadets who want to join the Army’s Cyber Division and Air Force airmen who are training to pilot unmanned aircraft on the other side of the world. Just as in generations past, the education, logistics and core talents of each individual are what make our military the best in the world.

We want the VHP to grow and include even more Arkansans in the collection. If a loved one or neighbor served in the U.S. military, help encourage them to be part of this endeavor. We would be pleased to send information on the Veterans History Project so we can continue honoring those who wore our nation’s uniform and highlight their service and sacrifice on our website.