Bringing History To Life

Bringing History To Life

Behind-the-Stacks-header copyIt’s no secret: librarians are big on stories and information. Words written, spoken or sung, documents, records, letters, manuscripts, databases…you get the picture. We are also big on keeping those stories, records, etc. available for others to access, learn from and enjoy. With veteran’s day upon us, we are proud to announce that twelve local veteran’s oral histories are now available in the Fayetteville Public Library digital archives.

Here’s how that worked: The Fayetteville Public Library invited veterans to record their military service stories and experiences for the Veterans History Project of the American Folklife Center. Trained interviewers conducted and recorded interviews with veterans of World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Persian Gulf War and the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts. These records are now available at the Library of Congress Veteran History Project and the audio recordings are available in the Fayetteville Public Library’s local history digital archive for your listening pleasure. Seriously, check these out. The veteran’s biographical and military service information is available via the Library of Congress website, but the audio interviews are only accessible there if you go in person. So, if you aren’t heading to DC anytime soon, you can still hear these stories simply by going to the Fayetteville Public Library catalog and typing in Veterans History Project. Awesome.

Veterans History Project BrochureHungry for more military related stories? The library has you covered there as well. When you think of war stories you think triumph, tragedy, loss, honor, courage, horror, rescue, history, survival, fear and even humor… themes that draw readers to all kinds of books; biographies, fiction and nonfiction titles alike. War stories certainly contain these and related themes and they attract a broad readership.

Classic novels like The Red Badge of Courage, All Quiet on the Western Front and A Farewell to Arms have been read and re-read for decades. More contemporary war novels featuring voices from war continue to win literary awards and accolades. The Eleventh Man, The Yellow Birds and Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk are just a few.

Nonfiction books on wars, veterans and military history abound. These books approach war from a variety of angles. Some books cover many things about one particular war while others focus on something specific. Topics include historical events leading up to war, decisive battles, lasting outcomes, geography, military vehicles and weaponry, warfare tactics, photojournalism and more.

War movies are a popular genre in film. Apocalypse Now, Band of Brothers, Platoon, Saving Private Ryan, The Hurt Locker, just to name a few, visually depict stories of war that can, just as strongly as passages in a book (or more), leave a lasting imprint on the viewer.

A subgenre to the nonfiction collective that is wildly popular (as indicated by book sales and library circulation statistics) is the biography. What is it about biographies that intrigue us so? To want to know the personal details of someone else’s life, business, career, relationships, illnesses, childhood? In listening to someone else’s story, we come to better understand them, the choices they made and the impact those choices have on the lives around them. There is value in providing a certain context to events that otherwise would be studied strictly with hard facts and figures. Biographies offer perspective, put a face on those events and we are allowed a peek in the window to someone else’s world for a short time. We can enjoy the story for greater understanding and escape, or in some cases, greater understanding through a knowing familiarity.

Biographies are popular in general (think athletes, actors, politicians, artists, writers, royalty, etc.) but the military biography is not to be overlooked. Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman, by Jon Krakauer, is the story of pro-football-player-turned-Army Ranger, Pat Tillman, and the investigation into his death from friendly fire during a 2004 Afghanistan war mission. Louie Zamperini’s story is told in Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption. This biography reads like a page turning thriller as we follow Louie’s life from Olympic runner, B-24 pilot, Japanese prisoner of war and post-war civilian struggling with the traumas of his experiences. Another biography that earned a lot of attention is American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History, by Chris Kyle. In his book, Mr. Kyle recounts his life from Texas childhood to decorated Navy SEAL. His four deployments to Iraq earned him a long list of medals including two Silver Stars and five Bronze Stars with Valor.

Now that your appetite for veterans’ stories and histories is whetted, contact the library for help in accessing the Veterans History Project recordings, or any of the titles mentioned here. Or, if we can assist you with finding other stories, information, records, documentation, databases…because, you know, we’re big on that.

*The Veterans History Project of the American Folklife Center collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war. More information about the program can be found at

Categories: Commentary