Oral Histories in the Military Collection

[This blog post comes from Military Collection Archivist, Kenrick N. Simpson.]

Among several ongoing programs of the North Carolina State Archives Military Collection is the acquisition and preservation of oral histories of the state’s veterans of military service. The Archives currently possesses more than nine hundred veterans’ interviews, ranging in date from pre-World War I to Iraq and encompassing all branches of service. Some of the more notable oral histories on file include the memoirs of Conley Cook of Durham, who served in Mexico with General Pershing before World War I; Ed Rector, one of the original “Flying Tigers”; Damon C. Alberty of Mayodan, a survivor of the Bataan Death March; Robert Morgan of Asheville, pilot of the Memphis Belle; Jack Lucas, the youngest recipient of the Medal of Honor during the twentieth century; Stewart Fulbright of Durham, a Tuskegee airman; C. Weldon Fields of Greensboro, who flew for the Civil Air Patrol during World War II; Mary F. Cannon of Pinehurst, a MASH nurse in Korea; and Steve Ritchie of Reidsville, the “last ace,” who downed at least five enemy planes in Vietnam.

All the veterans of World War I have since passed away, but the State Archives was able to capture the memories of thirty-eight North Carolinians who served in the Great War. Veterans of World War II, now in their eighties and nineties, are leaving us at an alarming rate, and the Military Collection is determined to identify and interview as many of them as possible to augment the more than six hundred such memoirs already in the custody of the Archives. The fiftieth anniversary of the war in Vietnam approaches, and the oral reminiscences of the veterans of that conflict, as well as those of the Korean War, demand our immediate attention. Memories of more recent service – in Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan – will also be invaluable primary sources for future historians and need to be recorded and preserved while the recollections are fresh.

Since the inception of the oral history program in 1996, the Military Collection has been fortunate to benefit from the energy and generosity of time and expense of several volunteers who have been active in seeking out veterans and conducting interviews, including Ken Samuelson of Pittsboro, who has donated nearly ninety oral histories, and Rusty Edmister of Cary, who has interviewed more than seventy-five veterans. On Veterans’ Day 2012, the Military Collection is eager to identify veterans who would be willing to share their memories of service and additional volunteers to conduct such interviews. The Archives has sets of questions applicable to each conflict and branch of service, as well as policies and procedures to guide the interviewer. Anyone interested in participating in the veterans’ oral history program, either as an interviewee or an interviewer, is encouraged to contact Kenrick N. Simpson, Military Collection Archivist, at (919) 807-7314, or by e-mail at kenny.simpson@nc.dcr.gov. The State Archives Military Collection also solicits the donation of letters, diaries, memoirs, photographs, and other mementos of military service from veterans with ties to North Carolina.

Listen to an interview with Colonel Robert K. Morgan, Asheville, N.C. U. S. Air Force Reserve (November 22, 1999) or view the clip’s entry in the Internet Archive.