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Veterans share their stories for Library of Congress archives project

YPSILANTI, MI -- Veterans from across the state have been coming together to share and document their firsthand accounts from their time in the U.S. military.

The Office of U.S. Senator Gary Peters hosted a Veterans History project event on Friday, Dec. 9, in Eastern Michigan University’s Halle Library as a way to preserve the stories of military veterans that served from World War I to the present.

Ramon Baca, director of Livingston County Veterans Services, never looked into documenting the 25 years he spent serving in the Army until this event. During his service, Baca was deployed to areas like Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I’m humbled to be here to tell my story and really I’m trying to tell my story on behalf of all the others that I served with alongside whether its superiors, peers or subordinates along the way and to highlight the units ... that I was lucky to be in,” he said.

This event will contribute information to the Library of Congress American Folklife Center’s Veterans History Project. The project was created in 2000 by the United States Congress as way to collect, preserve and share the narratives of veterans and Gold Star families in a national archive.

While the event is providing information for future generations, it is also helping EMU. Alexis Braun Marks, university archivist, said the event is being used as a learning experience for some of EMU’s graduate students that are in an oral history methods course.

There are five students conducting interviews and one that is helping with the event’s intake paperwork.

Braun Marks said EMU was prepared to help when it was approached with this collaboration, especially since the university is working to establish its oral history program.

“Our ultimate goal, within the context of the university archives, is to give students as many hands on learning experiences as possible,” she said. “Our mission is to tell the story of the university and you can’t tell the story of the university without telling the story of the community.”

While many different people’s stories are being documented, Baca said it is important to have events like these for veterans that may have never felt comfortable to share their stories in the past.

Growing up, Baca said he saw first-hand how some of his family members served the country, but didn’t share their experiences. Referencing the Vietnam War, he added that he was living in an era where some veterans weren’t welcomed home.

Baca hopes events like this will allow veterans that may be closed off to open up and gain closure “that’s much deserved.”

“Really any time that any venues are available to veterans to come and tell their story, especially for those older generations, I think it’s a very good opportunity,” he said. " We have to learn about our history ... to understand what the struggles people went through in the past ... and potentially change that for the future.”

Besides being a part of American history, Baca said that he hopes his story can reach other veterans and even active duty military members so that they can be inspired to continue serving the United States.

“Our nation’s veterans have protected our freedoms, families and values as Americans,” Peters said in a press release. “We owe it to them to ensure their stories and experiences live on.”