Many court reporting schools, state associations, firms, and courthouses across the nation celebrate Veterans Day by interviewing veterans about their wartime experiences for the Veterans History Project (VHP). These VHP Days have become annual traditions in Iowa, Minnesota, and Illinois, to name just a few places.
Iowa Court Reporters Association & Des Moines Area Community College
For the past eight years, the Iowa Court Reporters Association (ICRA) has partnered with a local court reporting school to host a VHP Day in November. The event was hosted at AIB College of Business until the school closed its court reporting program in 2012. When Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) picked up AIB’s court reporting program, it also happily picked up the partnership with ICRA. Between the partnerships with AIB and DMACC, ICRA has interviewed almost 200 veterans.
On Nov. 4, DMACC and ICRA hosted their third shared VHP Day and interviewed 12 veterans who had served in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Desert Shield, Desert Storm, and Operation Enduring Freedom.
The event involves more than simply interviewing veterans. This year, the local color guard posted the colors, Renee Davenport sang the national anthem, and Col. Greg Hapgood from Camp Dodge in Johnson, Iowa, handed out framed certificates to the veterans following a catered luncheon.
The event provides an opportunity to recognize veterans for their service, even when the veterans do not believe there is anything noteworthy about their service.
“The common theme I have noted among all stories is that they don’t feel that their service was of any particular importance,” said Pamela Burkle, RPR, an official from Urbandale, Iowa, one of the organizers of the annual event. “But when you put them all together, they are important. One part cannot work without the other. One veteran said he made bread, and that was his job, and he didn’t feel it was very important. However, I think if you asked any of the veterans in his platoon, they would say their bread/food was an integral part of their survival.”
Since the event is hosted at DMACC, court reporting students are invited to participate as student guides and room monitors. In addition to hearing the veterans’ stories, which have a profound impact on everyone in the room, the students get the opportunity to speak with the seasoned court reporters who are transcribing the interviews.
“I was speaking with the student in my room and explaining how I was adding to my job dictionary based on the conversation the interviewer and the veteran were having prior to the interview starting,” said Burkle. “She had no idea how that worked, and she told me that she thought I was having computer problems because I kept going back to my laptop.”
There is a sense of urgency to interviewing veterans before it’s too late. “Last year, shortly after the histories were taken, a couple of the veterans passed away before the transcripts were even completed,” said Burkle. Fortunately, their stories will live on in the Library of Congress.
Anoka Technical College & Minnesota Association of Verbatim Reporters & Captioners
The Judicial Reporting Program at Anoka Technical College in Minnesota has hosted an annual VHP Day the Saturday before Veterans Day since 2008, interviewing approximately 50 veterans to date. Working closely with the Minnesota Association of Verbatim Reporters & Captioners, the college recruits students to interview the veterans and Minnesotan reporters to write and transcribe the interviews.
The annual event used to be hosted on the college campus, but Anoka Tech has recently taken the event off-site.
“The past couple of years we have taken our team to an assisted living home so we can interview World War II and Korean War veterans who are not as mobile anymore,” said Jennifer Sati, RMR, CRR, CRC, CRI, an NCRA Director and instructor at Anoka Tech. “Most recently, on Nov. 5, Minnesota reporters and students … joined together to help preserve history for 12 wartime veterans at Chandler Place Assisted Living in St. Anthony.” Nine of these veterans served in World War II and three served in the Korean War.
“We make our VHP event more than just interviews,” Sati continues. “We have food, music (an accordion player), decorations, and we invite veterans to return back the following years to enjoy the day and continue building friendships.”
Tom Piltoff, a court reporting student, served as an interviewer at this year’s event. “It was an extremely humbling experience to be in the presence of such great men and an honor to have been able to hear even a small chapter or two of their stories,” he said.
The participants will remember these stories for years to come. One memorable veteran is Larry Tillemans.
“He lived in a small town outside of the Twin Cities,” said Sati. “One of the students who worked as a waitress in a small café he frequented mentioned that her school hosts VHP Days. He was interested! As it turns out, Mr. Tillemans was a typist with the Third Army in Munich, Germany (1945-1946). He was assigned by the Army to type transcripts at the Nuremberg War Crime Trials and the Dachau Tribunal. Throughout the 218 days Mr. Tillemans spent in Germany, he witnessed over 350 Nazis and victims of the Holocaust give their testimony. Mr. Tillemans personally typed over 200,000 affidavits. He shares his experience with as many people as he could. He is adamant people hear actual accounts from people who were present when history was being made.”
Lake County, Ill., Veterans History Project
The Lake County Courthouse in Waukegan, Ill., has hosted its annual VHP Day for the past five years on Veterans Day.
“Our VHP event would never have happened if it hadn’t been for my colleague, Vernita Allen-Williams (our current ILCRA president),” said Deborah Cohen-Rojas, RPR, an official from Lake County, Ill., one of the event’s organizers. Allen-Williams, RMR, an official from Waukegan, Ill., is the current president for the Illinois Court Reporters Association. “[She] had read about the project and mentioned it to our then-chief judge, Fred Foreman, and, upon his retirement, support for the project was continued by our next chief judge, John Phillips, who is also a veteran,” Cohen-Rojas continued. “Both Judge Foreman and Judge Phillips are retired now, but they remain strong supporters of the project, and they both volunteered at this year’s event.” According to Cohen-Rojas, Allen-Williams and Colleen Eitermann, an official, from Deerfield, Ill., coordinated the first event and began “what has become a proud tradition at our courthouse.”
This event has grown exponentially over the past five years, from nine veterans the first year to a record 35 veterans this year, bringing their five-year total up to 134 veterans interviewed.
“The first year we did the VHP,” says Cohen-Rojas, “we put out pastries and fruit and coffee, and we had the opening ceremony in one of our courtrooms. Then, as more people participated each year, more people wanted to be involved and more ideas started to surface. The Young Marines, in addition to helping serve the veterans and their families breakfast, also help out as escorts for disabled veterans. Last year we had challenge coins made for the veterans with all of the branches of the military represented on them. We started sending the veterans packages after the interviews with copies of their interview transcripts, framed certificates, thank-you letters, and photos from the event. Representatives from organizations like the Honor Flight and the Daughters of the American Revolution got involved, as well. It has really been an honor to watch this event grow and evolve. My favorite part is hearing afterward from volunteers that the experience has changed them and that they want to volunteer again not just for the next year, but for every year after that!”
The entire community backs the annual event. The Lake County Bar Association supplies interviewers and escorts for the veterans, and contributes financially to support the event.
“State’s attorneys, public defenders, and private practitioners participate, as well as several retired judges,” adds Cohen-Rojas. “The Marines volunteer time and food for the fantastic breakfast served to the veterans and their families. The staff at the 19th Circuit café volunteer their time in helping to serve breakfast, as well.”
Of course, the event wouldn’t be complete without the court reporters.
“The court reporters are really superstars. Several of the 19th Circuit’s reporters participate, and we have freelancers and other officials who come from all over the state as well as several from other states,” said Cohen-Rojas. “I talked to at least three reporters this year who had come from so far away that they got hotel rooms and traveled in the day before the event. These reporters happily sacrifice their time off and, in the case of freelancers, personal expense to be a part of this event. I really can’t say enough about them.”