School unveils veterans project
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Glenville State College is ready to tell West Virginia's war stories.
The school's West Virginia Veterans' Legacy Project now has interviewed more than 200 veterans from conflicts past and present and will soon debut a book, a documentary and a play based on their stories.
Glenville administrators on Wednesday unveiled the first iteration of the project, a photo exhibit, with a short ceremony at Yeager Airport.
"It is important for us to allow you the opportunity to preserve a true history," Glenville President Peter Barr, an Army veteran, told servicemen on Wednesday.
The exhibit will remain at Yeager until early November and occupies an entire wall in the baggage claim area. It features 34 photos from the interviews with veterans.
Some are standard portraits of veterans posing with photos of their much younger selves.
Vietnam veteran William O'Dell's portrait features only his hands holding tarnished dog tags and a rifleman's medal.
Another photo features letters written by David Hill, a World War II and Korean War Army veteran, and his wife, Francis, during the Korean War. The letters were donated by their son, Dr. James Hill, a Vietnam veteran who served in the Marines.
Woody Williams, a West Virginia native, Marine and Congressional Medal of Honor winner, commended the college for preserving veterans' stories.
"Something we should never forget: we're here because others cannot be," he said. The project also is collecting interviews with "Rosie the Riveter" workers, who supported the war effort in factories, and families of fallen military members.
Williams, who fought at the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II, said their stories are also important.
"They gave part of themselves for this country," he said. The Veterans' Legacy Project started in 2008 as the World War II Heroes Project, which collected oral histories from veterans of that war. In 2010, Glenville received a $350,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to expand the program to include other West Virginia veterans.
The college has recently received more than $100,000 in grants to produce additional exhibits for the interviews, including a book, a documentary and a play.
"It's sort of like planting a garden and waiting and hoping. This is just the first piece of the puzzle," project director Bob Henry Baber said of the photo exhibit.
The university is putting the finishing touches on its first book about the project, "Heroes Among Us."
"There's already enough for another book," Baber said.
Glenville State will host a veterans' ball on Nov. 10, the Saturday before Veterans Day. The event also will serve as the debut of a documentary about the legacy project, created with interview footage.
On Nov. 14 and 15, Baber will debut a play he wrote using material from the interviews. He said the play would incorporate footage from the interviews, as well as music and "interpretive drama."
The university plans to post all the interviews, along with photos and video, on its website. There are only about 30 interviews on the site currently, but Baber said many more are on the way. There also are about 40 veterans and family members waiting to be interviewed for the project.
Shirley White, 64, of Cross Lanes, is on that list.
Three of her sons were in the military. Her oldest son is in the Navy. Her second-oldest, Robert, was a career soldier in the Army's 82nd Airborne. In 2005 he was deployed to Afghanistan, where he was killed.
Her youngest son, Andrew, was a Marine who was deployed to Iraq while Robert was in Afghanistan. He returned home from war but died in 2008 from complications of post-traumatic stress disorder, his mother said. "This project is so wonderful because it continues the stories of our family members that we don't want to forget," she said.
She said her father was in World War II, and the family always loved hearing his stories from the war, but no one ever thought to write them down.
"Now we don't have that to go back to," she said. "(The Veterans' Legacy Project) is going to keep these experiences out there to the public."
For more information about the West Virginia Veterans' Legacy Project or to get on the waiting list to be interviewed, call 304-462-6163 or visit www.glenville.edu/veterans.