Saving the Voices of the Past
By Chief Warrant Officer 4 Judith E. McCabe Director, National Guard Militia Museum of New Jersey
Every day that goes by more and more voices are silenced. Some due to age, others to past injuries from the wars they fought in. With each voice that disappears those experiences are lost. Some were never shared with anyone. This loss affects everyone, especially those in the military.
Last year the National Guard Militia Museum of New Jersey opened the Center for U.S. War Veterans’ Oral Histories program to record oral histories from veterans of all military conflicts. The center, located at the National Guard Training Center in Sea Girt, is an official partner with the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress American Folklife Center. The online National Registry of Service lists the veterans interviewed by the museum as part of the project.
Three summer employees, all history enthusiasts, implemented the program. They were Robert Pontecorvo, a retired high school history teacher, Michelle Carrara, a graduate student in history at Penn State University, and Carol Fowler, a graduate student studying for a teaching certification in history.
Each veteran was asked to fill out a short biographical questionnaire, to include his or her wartime activities. The team then researched the conflict and prepared appropriate questions. Other questions were drawn from the long list provided by the U.S. Army Military History Institute at Carlisle Barracks and from the Navy Historical Center in Washington, D.C. The questions were used during videotaped interviews of the veterans.
The interviews revealed emotional reactions, detailed descriptions and a sense of satisfaction of how they served their country. The experiences of Maj. Mary Newman, an 89-year old Army nurse, detailed her career from the Asia- Pacific Theater, to Germany, the Caribbean, and into Korea. Sgt. Sonny Pisano, the first veteran interviewed for the center, described his experiences in the Korean War. His letters (some are on display at the museum) detail the daily life he led. Pisano died in January 2002. Lt. Col. Gary Rieth, a retired New Jersey National Guard officer, was a member of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment in Vietnam. The feelings he expressed about the Vietnam Memorial are vivid and poignant.
Each of the interviewees were honored at two luncheons at the Museum. They received a copy of the video and a certificate of appreciation.
Any individual or veterans group interested in giving an oral history may call the museum at 732-974-5966 for more information.
Brig.Gen. Glenn K. Rieth, the adjutant general,(left) and Col. Emil Philibosian, deputy commissioner, (right) were made honorary members of the Marine Corps League, Sept. 23. The honorary membership was in appreciation for the work Brig.Gen. Rieth and Col. Philibosian do on behalf of Marines, the community and Marine Corps League, and especially the Marines in the three state veterans nursing homes, according to Robert “Bob” Swain (center), who is serving his second consecutive term as Commandant of the Department of N.J. Marine Corps League. League headquarters, in Falls Church, Va., approves all honorary memberships. Photo by Tech.Sgt. Mark Olsen, Public Affairs, NJDMAVA