Retired U.S. Navy veteran Kevin Shelby wasn’t more than three sentences into his short speech at the podium when his voice started to catch. He paused and looked out at the dozens of military veterans sitting before him in the bright sunshine on the deck of the Battleship Iowa.
“I never in my life, in my wildest dreams, thought I would be going down in history as a great American,” he said. “But we all need to leave a legacy for our families. We don’t want our stories to go to the grave with us.”
Shelby, who is also a Red Cross disaster volunteer, is one of 438 U.S. war veterans who, since 2010, have recorded video interviews about their wartime experiences with the Red Cross L.A. volunteers for inclusion in the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project.
On April 15, Shelby joined more than 100 guests aboard the Battleship Iowa in the Port of Los Angeles, where the Library of Congress recognized the Red Cross L.A. Region as the foremost collector of veteran interviews. In April, Red Cross volunteers began collecting interviews in a dedicated room aboard the Iowa, in addition to Long Beach chapter offices and other locations.
Long Beach resident Shelby, who served in the Navy from 1979-1982 on the U.S.S. Guam, said he thinks the partnership between the two organizations is a perfect fit. Red Cross volunteers are among thousands of interviewers nationwide who go through specialized training to talk with veterans, on video, about their time in the service. Nationwide, the Veterans Project has collected 97,000 interviews.
On hand to celebrate the event were: Bob Patrick, director, Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress; Jarrett Barrios, CEO, Red Cross L.A. Region; Michael Jordan, Vice President, Humanitarian Services, Red Cross; and Mike Getscher, executive vice president and COO, Pacific Battleship Center.
Barrios told the crowd that “we want every veteran’s story,” no matter in what capacity they served. “When you talk to some veterans,” he said after the event, “they say, well, I never thought my story was worth telling if I wasn’t shot at. So for us to be able to say yes, your story matters, every story matters, and for us to be able to engage our volunteers in this project, it’s priceless.”
In addition to thanking the veterans and Red Cross volunteers, Barrios also recognized Reliance Steel for its generous donation to support the Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces.
Other veterans attending the event include Ernest Thompson, a 97-year-old Navy veteran who served from 1936-1940 and then again from 1942-1945 on the USS Battleship Missouri. He said former military members often shy away from telling stories of combat because “We don’t want to let it out. It’s too emotional.” But he was interviewed for the project four years ago, and said it was a great experience, and that “Young people should know the history of our country, including what it’s like to go to war. It’s important.”
Yvette Hyatt Kovary, a Coast Guard Lieutenant from 1943-1953, said she would likely participate after hearing more about the interviews. Kovary was a member of an historic women’s reserve unit known as SPAR (from the motto Semper Paratus – Always Ready), which was established by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to allow women to serve stateside so that male military service members could go overseas.
In April 14, Bob Patrick from the Library of Congress recognized several dedicated Veterans History Project volunteers from the Red Cross Greater Long Beach Chapter with certificates and pins: Mike Farrar, Janice Wong, Karen Wells. Dee Fuggiasco and Hetal Shah.
There is still much work to be done, with more than 17 million living wartime veterans waiting to tell their stories. If you would like to preserve your unique perspective of the war, a Red Cross volunteer can arrange to interview you. For more information, contact Mike.Farrar@redcross.org.