On Veterans Day, how should we honor those who served in uniform?
We can fly the flag. Certainly, we can thank a veteran. We can also listen to their stories.
A relatively new exhibit in Olympia at the Washington State Legislative Building, Washington Remembers, shares the stories and photos of World War II veterans, part of the Secretary of State’s larger Legacy Project to record the stories of ordinary citizens who are the state’s history makers.
Washington Remembers has compiled the stories of veterans on the battlefronts and defense plant workers on the home front. Along with the exhibit in Olympia, which continues through June 30, much of the material, including histories and photos also is available online at www.sos.wa.gov/legacyproject/. Among the veterans in the exhibit are:
Joe Moser, a Ferndale man who was a fighter pilot in the war. Shot down and captured, Moser was liberated from Buchenwald days before his scheduled execution.
Clayton Pitre, a Seattle man, who as a Montford Point Marine, one of the first 20,000 African Americans to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps since the American Revolution when racial discrimination in the armed forces was ended by executive order; and
Stan Jones, who after returning from his time in the Marines, served 44 years on the Tulalip Tribes Board of Directors, 26 years as its chairman before retiring in 2010.
Jones’ story, compiled by Trova Heffernan for the Legacy Project, describes his upbringing on the Tulalip reservation and how, at the age of 17, he joined others compelled by the attack on Pearl Harbor and signed up with the Marines. Calling on his skills driving a bulldozer as a teen, Jones was assigned to a tank battalion and drove a Sherman tank during the capture of Saipan in the Mariana Islands in 1944.
It also describes how Jones, after he was sent to Nagasaki, Japan, would take his own rations and food scrounged from the officers quarters to Japanese children and families devastated by the atomic bomb dropped there.
These stories are of great historical value, of course, but they also put a face on veterans, not just those of World War II, but those who have served in all our wars. They serve as a reminder of the needs that many of the veterans still have and the debt that we owe them.
Jones, during his time in Nagasaki, was exposed to the lingering radiation there. Along with some hearing loss and partial blindness, Jones also bears the scars from surgery to remove tumors on his left leg, which he attributes to the radiation he was exposed to. Jones’ claim to the Department of Veterans Affairs for medical coverage for the tumors was denied in 2005.
The stories of Jones, Moser, Pitre and others included in Washington Remembers, are now part of the historical record. Other veterans from other wars and conflicts have yet to tell their stories. The last U.S. World War I veteran died in 2011. Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, fewer than a million survive.
Efforts like the Legacy Project are necessary to preserve those stories before they are lost. But anyone can grab a tape recorder, a smartphone app or even a pen and paper and ask a veteran to tell his or her story. As families gather for Thanksgiving, the day offers a prime opportunity.
Honor veterans by getting their stories and listening.
For the record
StoryCorps, a nonprofit organization that records oral histories and catalogs them at the Library of Congress, offers a smartphone app to record oral histories and tips on interviewing. Go to https://storycorps.me/.