It’s been 36 years since the Vietnam War ended, and nearly 60 since fighting stopped in Korea. In a new pair of online surveys, Tennessee’s state library and archives is asking people who served in those wars to pull up those old memories, and the questions dig deep.
Beyond wanting to know where a veteran served and what his or her unit did, the surveys ask about things like drug use among the troops, racial tensions within the ranks, and what veterans thought of their enemy’s strategies. Archivist Wayne Moore says that kind of information is vital to historians looking to flesh out the story of a war.
There’s a certain timing required when you’re looking for that kind of reflection-it doesn’t work well to ask too soon. But Moore thinks it’s been long enough.
“These guys are of an age that they’re thinking about their legacy and their place in the history and the events that they took part in.”
At the same time, the proverbial clock is ticking, and Moore points out that a lot of memories are already lost because the veterans they belonged to have died.
When the time comes that scholars do begin to really dig into the stories of Vietnam and Korea, Moore says the work done on older wars shows what breadth of information they’ll need.
“There’s a gazillion books out there on the Civil War and it’s because we have tons of letters and images and materials from that conflict that scholars will study and then that’s what they write their books with.”
And, thanks to efforts about a century ago that were a lot like what Moore is doing now, Civil War scholars can also study survey answers from troops. In 1914, the state archives began sending questionnaires to Civil War soliders. About 16-hundred were returned.
In addition to the surveys, the state library is also asking veterans to either donate artifacts and memorabilia from the Korean and Vietnam Conflicts or allow the library to make a record of those objects.
The effort to collect stories from the Korean and Vietnam Conflicts—plus materials like letters and photographs—began earlier this month. Moore says the library will keep accepting submissions as long as there are veterans interested in sharing their memories.
You can find a link to the surveys on our website, wpln.org.