‘Voices from History’ oral history tour to come to Homer this summer

Brad Schmitz, an Anchorage educator and owner of Alaska English Adventures, is scheduling a summer tour that will bring veterans to Homer and offer them the opportunity to participate in the Library of Congress Veterans History Project. The tour will include five days of typical Homer summer tourism activities and culminate with a recorded interview from each veteran.

Schmitz teaches English as a second language at Northern Lights ABC School, Polaris and Rilke Schule German School of Arts and Sciences. He has also been engaged in the Veterans History Project since 2006. Schmitz met with a small group of Homer residents at the Homer Elks Club last Saturday to introduce the project and discuss preliminary plans for the tour.

Congress created the Veterans History Project in 2000 as part of American Folklife Center with the purpose to collect, preserve and make accessible the personal accounts of America’s wartime veterans so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand their service.

According the field kit provided by Schmitz, veterans who served in the United States military, in any capacity, from World War I through recent conflicts are eligible to participate, regardless of branch or rank.

To contribute to the project, volunteers aged 15 and older from around the country interview veterans and collect first-person recorded narratives with a very simple, straightforward and strict set of guidelines provided by the field kit.

The field kit includes a pre-composed cover letter with a submissions checklist, a biographical data form, a veteran’s release form, an interviewer’s release form, audio/video recording log, photograph log, manuscript data sheet, list of suggested interview questions and various instructions on what is accepted as media and directions for how to conduct the interview and submit materials back to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

The field kit also notes that “researchers, scholars and educators rely on VHP collections as a primary source of data. These oral histories, photographs and manuscripts are a rich supplement to historical texts and a valued cultural resource.”

Schmitz said he has completed nine of the interviews so far and more than 110,000 have been collected at the Library of Congress since the project started in 2000. Schmitz has mostly worked with Vietnam veterans but has conducted a few interviews with World War II veterans.

The Homer tour project is scheduled for June 26 and the interviews will be conducted in the downstairs of the Homer Elks Club. Interviews will be filmed by George Hall. Each interview is required to be at least 30 minutes long but can run as long as 90. They need to be submitted without editing.

“Once we record the veteran, it is up to that person what he or she wants to share and be preserved with the story. The questions provided by VHP are just suggestions,” Schmitz said.

“When I’ve done this in the past, I’ve always suggested to the man that he might want to share something about his experience in the military with great-great grandchildren and this is the chance to do it; they have to really think about the time in war that they want to share.”

He said he has only interviewed men, so far, but that is not a requirement.

Schmitz said in addition to the military history, the project provides the opportunity to share a life oral history for the veteran because biographical details that are suggested as questions include topics such as where the person was born; their parents’ occupations; who their siblings were and if they served in the military; what schools or colleges the person attended; what they did in life before joining the military; and what they might have done post-military.

“Still, the primary meat of the story will be the person’s time in the military maybe from their draft date until the time they retired,” Schmitz said.

Schmitz created his tour company in 2017 but because he’s engaged in the VHF project in the past, he thought a tour might be useful way to get to know people and hear their stories. He is getting assistance on the tour component of things with Angel Whitney, also from Anchorage.

“This is kind of where I come in. We want to try to find a way to help the veterans who join us pay for this and get out of town and relax for a few days before the interview. You’re not going to get a lot of veterans who are really going to just sit down and offer to give their story. I know, I’ve tried. The only one I’ve gotten to agree to this is a single commander here,” Whitney said.

Schmitz said he’s talked to some employees at the Warhawk Museum in Nampa, Idaho, who have conducted about 1,500 of the interviews and pitched the idea of bringing veterans out halibut fishing while their sharing some of their stories and they agreed that it would probably work well.

Whitney and Schmitz are looking for funding sources such as Legion Posts or the VFW to help with financial support for the tour.

Other people who attended the planning meeting included George Hall, Kate Mitchell and Jen Hakala. After explaining the logistics of the general VHP, Schmitz and the other attendees spent the rest of the meeting discussing various additional activities the veteran visitors might want to consider in town.

They are planning to stay at Homer’s Bear Creek Winery. Summer 2024 will be the test year for the VHP Homer tour but Schmitz hopes it will grow and include more veterans next summer.

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