At the Casner Room in Marfa City Hall, Angelo State University professors Kanisorn Wongsrichanalai and Christine Lamberson usher veterans into adjoining rooms for audio interviews. They set their mementos onto a small white sheet for photo documentation, and have them fill out paper work so all the material they gathered can be used for an online database.
The aim is to work towards making war history from the recent past into something personal for West Texans here as part of a much larger project called “War Stories.”
“This is the stuff of which history books are made,” said Wongsrichanalai, who’s co-directing the project with Lamberson.
“This is the story of the American experience. This is the story of the American spirit in global conflicts, in global peacekeeping. And a lot of these stories — you don’t read about them. But the Army is made up of individuals with individual experiences.”
Sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities, “War Stories” is several months old, and it won’t be completed for another three years. Yet it’s focusing entirely on West Texas. It’s been taken to San Angelo, Pecos, Alpine, and Marfa, with many other stops planned in places like Abilene and Eden.
“I think the public needs to know,” said Marfa resident and veteran Cesar Melendez. “They need to know everything about our military — the good stories, the bad. Mostly the positive I’d like to share.”
One man told Lamberson about his experiences visiting Berlin when it was divided under the former Soviet Union and the storefronts filled with fake food as decoys. Another told about a trip he took to Laos in search of the plane his father was shot down in during the Vietnam War.
Because of the technology used, veterans are able to keep any materials they bring, and any interviews will be transcribed and put online in text form as well.
A working version of the website should be up during the fall, and it’ll be updated continually until 2017. Angelo State welcomes walk-ins or emails from interested veterans in the area.
“One of these reasons this project is important now is we have a lot of returning veterans,” Lamberson said. “So it’s a good time for historians and Americans to stop and think about the history of the military in the United States and its role in peoples lives as we have all these new returning veterans and think about what history can tell us as we go forward.”