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Preserving heroes’ narratives: Inside the Veterans History Project event at the NCRA Conference

At the NCRA Conference & Expo in Houston, the National Court Reporters Foundation (NCRF) hosted a Veterans History Project (VHP) event to capture the stories of veterans invited from local VFW Houston #8790 to share their experiences in an intimate and respectful environment.

Since 2001 NCRA members who volunteer their services have worked with NCRF and the Library of Congress to record and transcribe the moving stories of many U.S. veterans and Gold Star Families, building a legacy of the diverse group of men and women who have served our nation.

Last year NCRA and NCRF entered a five-year memorandum of understanding with the Library of Congress to continue transcribing the oral histories of U.S. military veterans for the VHP.

Nonagenarian Jose C. Rodriguez of Houston, Texas, is a member of Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Houston #8790 and a World War II veteran who shared his experiences as a Private in the U.S. Army at the 2023 NCRA Conference & Expo’s VHP event this week. Rodriguez shared how he left Texas for the first time as an 18-year-old draftee. He was assigned to report for duty in New Jersey in anticipation of being deployed into the European theatre before being assigned to combat duty in the Philippines before ultimately serving as a guard at an Allied Prisoner of War camp in Austria.

“1943,” Mr. Rodriguez replied after a long, almost solemn pause when asked when he was conscripted into the military. “I was the only one in my family to serve.”

The Texas veteran was dressed in a black suit with a VFW Life Member bolero, wearing his VFW member cap sharply creased. “Usually he’d wear a black tie, he is very formal,” his daughter shared, while the group of veterans and volunteers from NCRF and the Library of Congress posed for a group picture.

He went on to discuss how he could remember seeing enemy combatants in the Philippines and driving officers in Austria in an Army Jeep he’d occasionally be granted permission to drive while on R&R.

“I’d go visit a girlfriend in a small town [in Austria],” Rodriguez whispered with a gentle grin.

After being discharged in 1948, Rodriguez didn’t want to have to pick cotton in South Texas and came to Houston in search of more lucrative employment. “It was hard finding a job,” he said because of all the other service members who were also in the hunt for a job. He carefully opened a manila folder where he held up two pictures; both of him in a crisp, colorized Army uniform, one when he first entered the military and the other when he was discharged. He landed a job in a bakery where he said the same discipline he learned in the military carried over into his civilian life.

When asked if there was anything else he wished to share with the VHP, Rodriguez looked down at the two pictures of himself as a younger man and then up to the interviewer before whispering: “No, I think I’ve shared enough.”

Rodriguez returned the two pictures to the folder before closing it and being thanked for both his service and time sharing his experiences that will be archived in full for future generations in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

“It was a real honor,” said Susan Perry Scott, a court reporter who volunteered to transcribe this VHP interview. “If I could, I’d be here all day doing these.”

The court reporters who volunteered for the event for Conference were able to capture the veterans’ narratives verbatim, ensuring that their stories are preserved in their own words. These invaluable recordings are then archived at the Library of Congress, becoming a part of the nation’s historical record, helping to better understand the human experience during wartime.

Special thanks to the members of VFW Houston #8790 for participating in this event at NCRA’s Conference and Expo. Learn more about The Library of Congress Veterans History Project here.