Our Veterans’ Stories

Contributing Writer
Janet Wahlberg

With Memorial Day just behind us and the Fourth of July here, it reminds me that we need to continue to gather our veteran’s stories. The Fenton History Center has an ongoing project titled Vets Finding Vets. The main goal of this project is to gather the stories of all of our veterans, especially those who are still with us.

Many of us have veterans in our families, some from WWII, some from the Korean War, some from Vietnam and many from the more recent conflicts. All of their stories are important to you as their family members and to the various historical societies and veteran organizations around the country. May I suggest that you look at you family to determine who may have served in the military. Do not overlook aunts, uncles and cousins. Summer family reunions may be a good time to locate some of these folks even if they do not attend. During your business meeting or when everyone sits down to eat, announce that you are trying to collect family stories specifically those of the veterans. This is the perfect setting to gather the names and contact information you will need.

I would suggest that you schedule a separate time to interview your veterans in order to provide privacy and decrease distractions. You will want to have a list of questions on hand to keep you on track. Having said that, I would recommend that you allow your veteran to ramble on a bit as this may be the first time he or she has shared this particular memory.
I began collecting family stories after 9/11 and put together a list of questions to be answered. They are:

Full name, birth date & place, parent’s names, education, marriage, children, enlistment in the military to include: date & location, branch of the military, rank upon entry and discharge, military experience: theater of service and any stories they wish to share, and their post military career. You can certainly add or subtract from this list and your veteran may wish to adjust it to their comfort level. I would suggest that you focus on WWII and Korea as these folks are rapidly leaving us with the average age of the WWII veterans being 92. Also do not forget that some of the women in the family may have served.

Let me share with you two of my more memorable family veterans. After purchasing a book titled King Philip’s War at the Prendergast book sale several years ago, I made an amazing discovery. I read the name Stephen Wing and immediately checked the family history only to discover that he was my 9th great uncle. Stephen Wing was killed by one of King Phillip’s warriors and is the oldest veteran in the family. I then began to trace my 2nd great uncle William Henry Coffin from Prince Edward Island. He was killed during WWI on the Marcaing Line in France. I was able to locate a historian in Montreal who obtained a complete packet of William’s records. I even have a photo of the cemetery in France that he was buried in. While these two gentlemen stand out in the crowd, I have dozens of other stories including my father, many uncles and many cousins. They range from the American Revolution to our modern day conflicts in the Middle East.

The Fenton History Center is working actively to formalize their interview program. In the mean time, they welcome any stories that you have already collected and are willing to share with them. My husband and I had the honor of interviewing a family friend on his experiences as a Seabee during WWII. What a delightful afternoon. Please consider taking on this wonderful project as it will certainly enrich your family’s story as well as preserve the story of the everyday man or woman who has served our nation in war time.

To read Janet Walberg’s previous genealogy columns or to delve deeper into her writings and insights for searching out and recording your own family’s genealogy, please go to jamestowngazette.com and visit Janet’s own web page.