First Presbyterian Church Helps Local Veterans Preserve Their Stories

By Sandy Meyer

War veterans now have a place to memorialize their stories. Though the Veteran’s History Project was established in 2000, it has just recently been introduced to the Brandon, Valrico and Riverview area.

The Veterans History Project (VHP) of the Library of Congress American Folklife Center is primarily an oral history program that collects and preserves the firsthand interviews of America’s wartime veterans. VHP relies on volunteers, both individuals and organizations, throughout the nation to contribute veterans’ stories to VHP. In addition to audio- and video-recorded interviews, VHP accepts memoirs and collections of original photographs, letters, diaries, maps and other historical documents from World War I through current conflicts.

In early 2015, Judy Smolk learned that the project was being conducted at Sun Towers Assisted Living Facility in Sun City. Smolk and her church, First Presbyterian Church of Brandon, reached out to the facility to learn more about the program.

Last month, First Presbyterian Church began its own interviews of local veteran’s to be submitted to the Veterans History Project. According to Smolk, there is no end date on the project.

“As long as there are veterans who wish to be interviewed and trained volunteer interviewers, we will continue to host interviews once a month,” she said.

Preparation for the interview involves the veteran completing a one-page biography and military history sheet. Interviews are then conducted one-on-one in private, video recorded session at the church which is located at 121 Carver Ave. in Brandon.

The Brandon location has conducted interviews with four veterans covering the Vietnam War and has a World War II veteran scheduled for this month. The church has set a goal to interview 25 veterans by Christmas 2016.

Veterans interested in preserving their stories can do so free of charge. All interviews and DVDs are free. Call Judy Smolk at 643-9586 to schedule an interview. Interviews are held on the second Friday of each month and scheduling has begun for March and April.

Interviews are also held at the Haley Veterans Hospital in association with the Red Cross. Call 634-3347 for more information about that location.