West Texas Veterans and their loved ones are sharing their stories with historians for the project, “War Stories: West Texans Experience War.” Historians from Angelo State University are working to preserve these stories by recording interviews, digitizing photographs, documents, letters, diaries and other artifacts.
On Monday the project made a stop in Abilene at the main branch of the public library. By mid-morning several veterans were being interviewed including Charles Schwertner. He served in the Air Force for 22 years. At the end of his military career he flew B52’s at Dyess Air Force Base, before he became the chief of intelligence there. He has a thick binder filled with a laminated military documents that he’s kept since retiring in 1984.
"I have a complete record from day one to the last day I served of every order that I ever had and I just wanted to share this with somebody because I’m 77, I don’t know how long I can talk about this," Schwertner said.
His orders were digitized by the historians leading the effort to preserve stories about West Texans connected to the military.
"We talk to people who were deployed, who were in combat, people who weren’t deployed, people who didn’t see combat," said Christine Lamberson. "People who are in all sorts of different positions and their loved ones. People who had a husband or a wife or a child in the military. We want to hear the whole swath of experiences."
Lamberson is an Assistant Professor of History at Angelo State University and a co-director of the grant. She said it’s important to collect these stories so that others can learn the long history of the military’s relationship with West Texas.
"I think people have really enjoyed sharing their stories," Lamberson said. "We have people who are enthusiastic and ready to go right away as soon as they hear about the project. Sometimes people are hesitant, they feel like they don’t really have a story that’s “important enough” or that they didn’t as they sometimes say, 'do anything' but we really try to reassure people that they definitely have a story to tell."
The three-year-project is funded in part by the National Endowment of the Humanities. Lamberson and her colleagues will head to Big Spring next. In addition to traveling, they make home visits and meet with participants at Angelo State University in San Angelo. The project is on display at Angelo State and online at Angelo.edu/warstories where you can also find out how to submit your story.