HANFORD — A reception was a held Wednesday to recognize three different projects the Kings County Library Hanford branch has going on; one being the “War Comes Home: The Legacy” exhibit leaving the library, another being the Veterans Resource Center celebrating its one-year anniversary at the library, and the last being the continuing Veterans History Project.
In 2015, the Hanford branch received a grant from the California State Library to have a Veterans Resource Center located in the library. Reference Librarian Sherman Lee said the center is basically a satellite office of the Kings County Veterans Service office where veterans can go to the desk and obtain information about veterans’ services. Lee said the desk has served 55 veterans and their family members in the year it’s been at the library.
The Veterans History Project was started by the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. in 2000 and is the largest oral history project in the United States. The project asks veterans to talk for at least 30 minutes on video about their service and time in the armed forces.
The Hanford Library started its project last summer with interviews that are usually conducted at the library. In less than a year, Lee and Hanford Library volunteers have interviewed 15 veterans, including nine men and six women from all branches of the military.
Lee said the most challenging thing he’s found about working with veterans is trying to find some who want to tell their stories. He said he has come across many veterans who feel like they don't have a story to tell because they never saw combat, or women veterans who try to downplay their time in the service.
“Every veteran’s story is important whether they saw combat or not,” Lee said. “That’s my biggest nut to crack — how to get more veterans to come to the library to tell their stories — that’s what I’m trying to figure out. But, so far we’ve done pretty good.”
After the interviews are complete, the videos are burned onto DVDs with one copy going to the veteran, one staying at the library for anyone to watch or check out and the third copy going to the Library of Congress, where the video is uploaded onto its website for anyone to see.
Lee said the oral history project is ongoing and has no end date. A nine-minute compilation video of the veterans who have participated in the project so far was screened at the reception. Lee said he’s always had respect for people who have served in the military, but even more so after starting the oral history project.
“War isn’t something to be blasé about,” Lee said about people’s tendency to take service members commitment to the country for granted.
Vania Holmes volunteers for both the library’s resource center and with the oral history project. She said she has participated in a few of the interviews, and all the volunteers for the history project had to be trained on filming, lighting and interviewing.
Holmes said most of her volunteer work comes from working at the Veterans’ Resource Center in the library, where she is ready to answer any questions that come her way.
As a six-year veteran of the Navy herself, Holmes said just hearing the veterans’ stories are her favorite part of volunteering. She calls the experience humbling and rewarding and a way to help her “former brothers and sisters in arms.”
“It’s something that would just be completely lost had there not been any kind of program like this to document [their stories],” Holmes said. “It’s been great.”
Don McKinney said he was looking for a job after college in 1952, so he decided to join the Navy and ended up with a 34-year career until his retirement in 1986. He said he was able to see a lot of different places and meet a lot of good people during his time in the Navy.
“The Navy gave me a sense of patriotism, a sense of accomplishment and a sense of pride,” McKinney said. “I’m real proud of that.”
McKinney said his wife is the person who encouraged him to participate in the project last year and he’s glad he did because he enjoyed doing the interview. He said the project is worthwhile because it lets the public know what veterans went through for their country.
“The Navy was an adventure,” McKinney said. “It kept me occupied and entertained and frightened — you name it.”
John Thomson is a veteran of the Air Force and served from 1947-1951, but continued to work with the military for 34 more years in the aerospace division of the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation. Thompson said he heard about the project and contacted Lee, who asked him to participate in an interview, which he did.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Thompson said of the Veterans Oral History Project, adding his life was a great adventure and he loved every minute of it.
“Like all veterans, we’ve got a lot of stories that will never be told or can’t be remembered,” McKinney said. “Nonetheless, we lived them.”