Blackbelt Gazette collecting veterans’s stories

Published 5:45 pm Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Paul Gresham was just 19 years old when he stepped off a transport ship onto a Higgins landing craft facing Omaha Beach. Just A few months earlier, Gresham had been working on oil wells in rural west Alabama. Now, he was the platoon sergeant leading 24 men into what would become the greatest invasion of the world — D-Day.

For the past seven years, Gresham spent the day before Veterans Day recalling his experiences before an assembly of students at Demopolis High School.

“This was the first combat I had seen,” said Gresham. “I was scared to death.

Gresham was supposed to take part in the first wave to go ashore at Omaha Beach, the scene of perhaps the bloodiest fighting of all that transpired on D-Day.

Now his experiences can be included in a new project by the Blackbelt Gazette in conjunction with the National Veteran’s History Project.

Nine years ago, the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress launched a program to collect and preserve the personal experience stories and oral histories of America’s war veterans and make selections available to the public over the Internet.

The Veterans’ Oral History Project encourages war veterans, their families, veterans groups, communities, and students to write, audio- and videotape the memories of veterans’ time in service.

Over the course of the next year, veterans in Marengo County and their families are encouraged to send up the personal recollections of their wartime experiences. Each month the Gazette will feature a different veteran and all of the entries will be sent to the Library of Congress to be forever recorded and saved for history.

Guidelines and information about how to submit the recollections can be obtained by calling 334-289-4017 (ask for John Few) or emailing news@blackbeltgazette.com.

“Collecting the histories of American veterans is a critical task in preserving our history and an urgent need as we enter the 21st century. These histories will be an invaluable resource for future generations and will become part of the nation’s vast historical record that the Library of Congress has preserved for 200 years,” said Librarian of Congress, James H. Billington.

“We are losing our World War II veterans by a rate of 1200 a day, so goes many of the personal accounts that bring their experiences to life for generations behind them.”

“There used to be a good number of us who would meet each year in Atlanta,” Gresham said about his company’s annual reunion. “Now there is only a handful left.”

Although a strong emphases remains to collect the recollections of WWII vets, the project is for veterans of all wars.