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Information for Veterans

The Center for the Study of War and Society at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville needs your help if we are to preserve the military history of America’s wars and conflicts. As a veteran, you hold in your head stories and memories that could expand our understanding of pivotal events. We hope you will consider adding your name to our database of veterans interested in recording their oral histories for future historians, students, and members of your families.

If an oral historian has never interviewed you, I am sure you may have some questions that I want to take some time to answer:

Why do you want to interview me? I never “did anything” in the war.

Too often we think of history as something done by “great” generals and politicians. But it is equally important to tell the story of war from the perspective of those who served in the enlisted ranks and in the junior officers corps.

I never saw combat. Do you still want my oral history?

Yes, we do. Even during the Second World War, most servicemen/women never saw combat or faced mortal danger from the enemy. Those who served in the myriad of support functions played a vital role in making sure the American military could fight the enemy. Without the stories of cooks, truck drivers, chaplains, quartermasters, nurses, physicians, instructors, and a host of other specialists we cannot gain a complete history of the American military experience.

Who will conduct the interview?

A member of the Center staff who specializes in American military history will conduct most interviews. An undergraduate or graduate student from the University of Tennessee’s history department will often assist them.

What type of questions will I be asked?

Although our primary goal is to document our wartime experiences, we also want to know about your life before you entered the service and what happened to you after you left the military. With your permission, we want to conduct a “life course” interview with you. We plan to ask you about your parents, your childhood, and what led you to serve in the military. We will ask you a great deal about your training and assignments. If you saw combat, we will record your recollections and your reactions to what you experienced.

If I participate, do I have to answer all the questions you ask?

No. Ultimately, you have full control of the interview and can decline to answer any or all questions we ask. In order to write an accurate history of the past, we will sometimes ask difficult questions and fully understand if you do not wish to answer them. We will also honor requests for you to go “off the record.” Sometimes, we do not ask the right questions and we encourage anyone being interviewed to tell us on tape of important things that happened to them that we might have overlooked.

Why will you ask me to sign a release form before beginning an interview?

Without your consent we cannot make your interview available to future generations of scholars, students, and interested citizens.

What will happen to my interview?

If financial resources permit, we transcribe all the interviews we have conducted. If your interview is transcribed we will give you a copy and deposit another copy in the Center’s collection at the University of Tennessee Special Collections Library. We also place the transcriptions on the Internet so that students and scholars from around the world can use them.

Is there a charge for being interviewed?

No. However, given the scarce resources of the Center, we cannot guarantee that you will be interviewed. But we will make every effort to reach those who have expressed an interest in participating. If you do not want to be interviewed, but do want to tell your story, we would encourage you to write an autobiography of your experiences and these can be placed in the Center’s permanent manuscript collection. The Center actively solicits letters, diaries, photographs, and memoirs from veterans for use by scholars and students in the writing of history.

You have answered my questions, but I still have more. Who can answer them?

Please feel free to contact us at the Center for the Study of War and Society. We can be reached by e-mail at csws@utk.edu, or by telephone at (865) 974-0128. Thank you for considering our request.

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