June is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness month, and the Special Collections Division has numerous veterans' stories which discuss this issue.
Stories in Their Own Words
Veterans tell of their first-hand experiences with war, death and trauma. One man provides vivid details about the gore and carnage of the shore at Iwo Jima. Another veteran describes his struggles with homelessness and addiction, as he tries to silence the pain of his experiences and losses. A veteran of the conflict in Iraq tells about losing his best friend in combat just two weeks after their arrival, how he coped with the loss, and the persistence of survival behaviors after his return to the U.S., which led to his diagnosis of PTSD. He tells of failed treatments, and what worked, and describes what he does to continue to overcome some of the invisible scars that still persist. A medic tells about the trauma of losing a soldier during the Persian Gulf War, and how her mind blotted out the details so that she could continue the work she had to do. A woman who served during peacetime tells her story of surviving military sexual trauma. A veteran of Afghanistan describes losing a friend with PTSD to suicide, after they both survived the war zone and came home.
What is the Veterans History Project?
These and many other veterans' stories are recorded in oral histories, letters, memoirs, and other materials that make up the Veterans History Project Collection at the Nashville Public Library. Created by an Act of Congress in 2000, the Veterans History Project is a nationwide effort headquartered at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Initially concentrating on the five major twentieth century wars: World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and Persian Gulf, the project was subsequently expanded to include veterans of the Global War on Terror in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Nashville Public Library was the first library in the country to become a local partner in this effort in late 2001, and for eight years thereafter, we actively recorded oral histories with local veterans. In addition, we sought donations of items such as letters, memoirs, scrapbooks, maps, photographs, and similar materials to further tell veterans' stories through first-hand materials. The result is a collection that documents the experiences of nearly 400 local veterans. The collection is available for research use by appointment at the Special Collections Division.
As we pause this month to consider the toll of war on the living, the survivors and their families, let us remember the sacrifices they have made – and perhaps continue to make - as they learn to adjust to civilian life, resume or begin their careers outside of the military, and begin or resume their places in their families and communities.
Those of us who have never served in the military will never know what that burden is like, nor can we ever understand the true costs borne by the thousands of men and women who have served. But we can listen and honor their stories, and the lessons they teach us.
How Do I Access VHP Materials?
We are privileged to have the many stories from our local veterans as part of the Veterans History Project (VHP) at the Nashville Public Library. You can access these VHP materials in several ways:
In person at the Special Collections Division at the Main location downtown:
Start by consulting our overall finding aid, or read interview summaries. When you find something you'd like to look at or listen to, contact the Special Collections Division Reference Desk at 615-862-5782 for further details or to set up an appointment.
Listen to oral history excerpts:
James Carlew tells about escaping a burning tank hit by a mortar shell, and the pervasive feelings of fear, living in a combat zone.
Mary Maynard Ross describes preparing for, and then experiencing, the loss of a service member from her platoon.
Gilbert S. Fox tells of a near miss from a kamikaze attack during World War II, and the danger of falling shrapnel from his own guns.
Marion "Sonny" Smith describes being pinned down in the jungle by a sniper and arriving at Bien Hoa airbase and seeing American coffins bound for home.
You can view a small sample of materials through our Digital Collections portal, or search out NPL content, including some transcripts and/or recordings of oral histories available online in their entirety through the Library of Congress VHP website.