There are 1,757 entries — and counting — for Idaho vets on the Library of Congress website for the Veterans History Project.
With the click of a button, anyone around the world can hear the stories of service of people like Regina Ann Bastia Aldecoa, a Basque American anesthesiologist from Boise who served in the Army Nurse Corps during World War II.
Or of Robert B. Finney, a major in the Marine Corps who served in Vietnam as well as Desert Storm, who shared his story while being interviewed by Vallivue High School students in 2004.
Or of John Thomas McConnell, a Nampa native who served as an artillery specialist in the War in Afghanistan to fight the Taliban.
Now, the office of Congressman Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, is ensuring even more veteran stories like these are collected and stored in perpetuity. He’s recently added a section to his website to help connect veterans and their families to the oral history project.
“Many people really don’t understand what these veterans went through and what they felt during their time of service,” said Simpson’s spokeswoman Lexi Hamel in an interview. “That’s really something that we want to encourage all Idahoans and people nationwide to learn more about. We want to recognize those Idahoans who have served, and this is a really good way to bring that to light.”
Simpson’s office joins others across Idaho, like U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, who has participated in the project since its inception, and volunteers at the Warhawk Air Museum in Nampa, which regularly schedules interviews with Treasure Valley veterans to record their stories.
How to participate in the Veterans History Project
The Veterans History Project began after U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, a Democrat from Wisconsin, overheard family members casually discussing their time in the military at a Father’s Day picnic.
“Realizing the fleeting nature of these reminiscences, he grabbed a video camera to record his relatives’ accounts for posterity,” the Library of Congress website says. “This brief experience was the impetus for Congress to create a national, grassroots oral history initiative, which would allow participants to interview veterans in their lives and communities, with the resulting recordings archived as part of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.”
Very few things about Kind’s own experience have changed about the project’s process since it launched in 2000.
Veterans of any rank or branch from any time of service in U.S. history, peacetime included, are encouraged to bring photos, maps, uniforms or any other mementos to help share their stories. But the only thing required to be part of the project is a willingness to share their personal narrative, usually via filmed interview, of their service.
The interviews are often conducted by military advocacy groups like the American Legion, staffers at congressional offices or even lawmakers like Crapo himself, or volunteers at places like the Warhawk. However, any individual or organization may participate, including family members and friends of veterans, students age 15 or older, high school and university educators, authors, veterans service organizations, places of worship, retirement communities, Scout troops, local businesses and professional associations, according to the project’s website.
The submissions can and often do include raw, unedited footage of the interviews, and no transcript is required for submission, although they are encouraged.
Remembering the sacrifice of those who have served
Aldecoa, who still lives in Boise and is 101, said anyone and everyone should share their story of service.
Aldecoa said she distinctly remembers Dec. 7, 1941, the day Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. She said no one in Boise went unaffected by the war.
After taking a six-month course in anesthesiology and nursing at Saint Alphonsus, she chose to serve in the Army Nurse Corps because her brother was in the U.S. military at the time. She said she hoped to nurse soldiers so that someone would be there to care for them like she hoped someone would be there to care for her brother if he were ever injured. She went through boot camp and learned skills in the Army that she would go on to use for 40 years as a nurse and anesthesiologist at St. Luke’s and for a private practice in the Treasure Valley.
“That was pretty interesting. I got to know girls from every class and every color, not knowing what the heck we were getting into,” she said. “Most of us were 22. You can try and imagine trying to train kids in high heels to wear boots.”
While she was unable to be sent overseas to the front lines due to a surgery, she said she did her best to nurse the soldiers returning from war with serious injuries receiving care at Birmingham General Hospital in Van Nuys, California.
“Those of us that did stay home got the boys after they’d been injured,” she said. “The shock was over. The medication was over. The attention they got from everybody was over. When they came back to the States, they looked down and said, ‘I don’t have legs.’ This was pretty final when they got back home; that was the reality of being here. So, though I had missed being overseas, I felt the psychological effects of that were even greater when the boys came home.”
Aldecoa stressed that some of the lessons learned during World War II may be fading from American memory, and that participating in the Veterans History Project is one way to remember our past so we don’t make similar mistakes in the future.
“They gave their lives (so) that we might have freedom,” she said through tears. “And I don’t think some people even think about that. But we should. We really should.”
Hamel said Simpson’s office is happy to help connect people to interviewers to participate in the project. They’ll walk veterans and their families through the process step-by-step, she said.
“It benefits all Idahoans,” Hamel said. “Then you think about it: those who did serve can pass on their stories, and then their great, great, great grandchildren who never knew their grandfather or grandmother, they get the opportunity to see what someone in their family did. I know, for me speaking personally, that I would love to know all of my family history there.”