Idahoan William Russell Woodfin Sr. served as a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army during World War II. 

He was interviewed in 2001 by longtime member of my staff, the late-Linda Norris, as part of collecting a first-hand account of his service for the Veterans History Project.  First Lieutenant Woodfin discusses “bravery”:

“I always say this to high school or elementary schools when I talk to them that I hope no one thinks I’m brave.  I did so little compared to many who lived, but particularly those who died . . . Bravery to me is being scared to death, but some way, with the help of your God, overcoming the fear.  You don’t overcome it, but you’re able to go on, bear up, and do what you have to do.  And that’s an hourly, daily thing . . . I’ll tell you as nearly as I can so that I hope you understand it.” 

Discomfort with being considered “brave” is a common thread among the veterans I meet, who despite their great service, consider their fellow service members, not themselves, to be the true heroes.  First Lieutenant Woodfin’s interview and other personal service accounts of Idaho veterans and veterans nationwide can be viewed on the Veterans History Project (VHP) website, at www.loc.gov/vets/.  Congress established the Veterans History Project in 2000.  Since, the Library of Congress’ American Folklife Center has been working with the public to collect veterans’ oral histories—now amounting to 104,830 collections.  As explained on the project’s website, the Veterans History Project “collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war.” 

The collection is an enormously enriching resource.  The majority of the collections of veterans’ experiences are interviews, diaries, journals and memoirs.  In addition to archiving this important part of our nation’s history for all Americans, the collections have been used for museum exhibits, academic papers, news articles and more.  The VHP can be searched for the accounts of veterans of certain wars and from specific states, including those from Idaho veterans.  If you have the opportunity to help collect the stories of veterans you know, the Veterans History Project website contains guidelines for conducting interviews and submitting stories to the project. 

Veterans’ unedited audio or video recorded interviews, photographs, letters, diaries, journals, military documents, two-dimensional artwork, maps and unpublished memoirs are among the materials accepted to the VHP.  Accepted materials collected must fall within VHP’s 30-20-10 Rule:  30 minutes is the minimum length required for recorded interviews; 20 pages is the minimum number of pages required for memoirs, diaries or journals; and 10 is the minimum number of original photographs, letters, maps or pieces of artwork required and the minimum number of pages required for military documents.

While progress is being made to ensure the histories of our nation’s heroes are not lost to time, the collection contains less than 1 percent of the stories of veterans nationwide and 1 percent of Idaho veterans’ stories.  Thank you to Idaho veterans and their families who have provided 1,315 collections for the project so far.  Over the years, I have been honored to participate in interviewing Idaho veterans for the project.  Sitting with Idaho veterans, hearing their first-hand accounts and learning from their examples of limitless service has been immensely rewarding.