Reporting: Capturing a piece of history

By Lisa Selby-Brood

 

When the National Court Reporters Foundation first explained its involvement with the Veterans History Project through the Library of Congress in 2003, I jumped at the chance to transcribe a real-life interview with a war veteran.

I’m a history buff. My favorite things to watch are The History Channel and PBS, and I could give you a pretty good rundown on World War I and World War II. Participating in the Veterans History Project seemed like the perfect opportunity.

The first few veterans’ interviews I transcribed were on cassette tape, which tells you how long I’ve been transcribing. In many ways, the challenges are the same as those you run into every day with your normal work. Sometimes you can’t hear clearly. Sometimes the interviewer doesn’t ask the greatest questions. And most of the time you have a fair share of research to do, so it’s like a typical day at the office. Doing the research for me was enjoyable, as I was able to use some actual books on my shelves (I’m sure Google would have been faster) to find very specific locations of battles and major events.

What isn’t typical is the stories you hear. Most of the histories I have done have been World War II, which is my favorite war to study. What surprised me was that the interviews were all so different. One man was interviewed by his young granddaughter. One was done quite professionally, and the audio was excellent. One was done at somebody’s home, and there were trucks driving up and down the road (which you could see in the video), but his experiences were so interesting I didn’t seem to mind.

Some are short, maybe 10 pages. One of the interviews I transcribed was almost 50 pages. This man was in the Battle of the Bulge. I could have just sat and listened to him talk all day.

I can’t stress how important it is to get these stories transcribed. Yes, there are benefits to getting involved in this program. Court reporters can earn PDCs toward their overall continuing education total, and students who transcribe can earn a free membership with NCRA. In addition, this type of work will certainly be good literary practice for people planning to take a certification exam.

However, the program is important on a broader level. I gained a real understanding and respect for our work as Guardians of the Record and Keepers of the Spoken Word. If the Library of Congress had not asked for these interviews and stories, the stories of so many people who were involved in the U.S. wars would be lost. And without people like us to take the audio and turn it into a written record, it would be difficult for scholars to study and learn from those stories.

World War II veterans are dying at a rate of between 600 and 1,000 a day, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Soon they will all be gone, and the door will close on another chapter of history that we could have helped capture if we would have just tried.

Here is what I hope: First, if every court reporter would transcribe just one history, we could make a real difference in the amount of historical documentation that is available. Second — and I think everyone who has transcribed for the Veterans History Project would agree — once you’ve done one, you will want to do another.

The most poignant story I remember was the only one I did of a Vietnam War veteran. Maybe this one sticks with me so much because it was my generation’s war, the unpopular one, the one that took decades to understand and to come to terms with. As
this brave veteran recounted an incident where soldiers were helping rescue civilians as a school in Vietnam was burning to the ground, I wrote his interview with tears pouring down my face.

He said: “As I watched these screaming mothers trying to pull their children from this burning building, I realized that we are no different from them. They were just people, just like us, just like Americans, just like anyone else.” (That’s not verbatim, but that was the gist of what he was saying.)

I urge you if you have not already done so, please transcribe just one oral history. I am sure you will want to do more.

Lisa Selby-Brood, RPR, is a court reporter with Kanabay Court Reporters in St. Petersburg, Fla. She can be reached at lisa@kanabay.com

For information on NCRF’s program to transcribe the histories of veterans, visit NCRA.org/vets.