Mike Lyons and Burt Bice don’t wait for Veterans Day every November to honor the nation’s military – they do it all year long thru the American Red Cross.
Mike and Burt are among a dozen Red Cross volunteers across central Florida who collect the stories of veterans for the Library of Congress Veterans History Project. The history project is one of several initiatives of the Red Cross Service to Armed Forces program, which links service members to their families during a crisis and offers other help to members of the nation’s military 365 days a year.
The Florida group interviews about 20 veterans a month, sending video of the sessions and various required paperwork to the Washington DC project aimed at preserving the personal stories for future generations.
“It’s the most worthwhile and important volunteer program I’ve ever done.” Says Burt, an army vet himself who is a member of the Space Coast Chapter in Rockledge. “To hear people tell their story – people who’ve had personal experience -- is a very special thing.”
He and Mike have conducted the bulk of some 300 interviews the Red Cross group has completed over the last five years with veterans from World War II, Korea, Vietnam and other conflicts.
“Every interview is a history lesson,” says Mike. “It’s important that we capture the experiences these folks have had. Some of it has been great, some of it has been not so great. Some of them really loved their time in service and some didn’t, and we need to capture all of that for future generations.”
The Veterans History Project was set up by Congress in 2000 so people could hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war. But not all stories are from combat veterans. Interviews also have been done with nurses, a vet who ran the military postal system, and so on.
The biggest challenge for the Florida interviewers is finding the vets, says Burt. Mike said they reach out to vets organizations, churches and anyone else who can put them in contact with veterans who want to tell their story. If you are a veteran or know of a veteran who would like to participate, please send a message to our Service to the Armed Forces team at www.redcross.org/local/florida/central-florida/about/contact.
PHOTO CAPTIONS -
(Top) Judy Smolk, a Red Cross volunteer from the First Presbyterian Church of Brandon, proudly displays the pictures of veterans who have provided interviews for the history project.
(Preview Image) Burt Bice, a Red Cross volunteer who helps lead the organization, following an interview with with a World War II vetaran, 101-year-old Frank RePass of Titusville.