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Sunday, September 21, 2003

VETERANS HISTORY PROJECT


TJC home to war veterans' project

By Shalina Ramirez - Progress News Writer

They write of yearnings to be reunited with the loves they left behind.

They speak of a sense of community developed between strangers, joined together under some of the most harsh conditions to support a common cause.

And they relive the memories of experiences taken place on foreign soil.

Tomorrow, Americans across the country will once again band together to honor them for their dedication and willingness to risk life and limb.

They are the Veterans of War.

"I was wounded almost immediately," said Jacksonville resident and World War II veteran Hugh Neeld.

It was May, 1945, and the war in the Pacific was drawing to a close.

Neeld, then 16, had dropped out of high school and joined the Navy.

"All the young fellows at that age were anxious to get in," he said. "We all wanted to be a part of something important, and of course we were."

Neeld was assigned sea duty and shipped out immediately aboard the U.S.S. Indra, a small auxiliary repair ship, which was en route across the Pacific to join a fleet off the coast of Okinawa.

"The morning of May 11, there was a kamikaze attack," he said in a written statement. "I was frantically passing clips of shells to Bobby [Bowman, a crewman from Beaumont, TX] when something hit my helmet with enough force to knock me off my feet. My ears were ringing. I couldn't focus my eyes.

"Blood on my life jacket told me I'd been hit. From what seemed a great distance, I could hear people screaming for a Medic. Then I passed out.'

The carrier Bunker Hill, the ship which the U.S.S. Indra was closest too, had been hit by two kamikazes and a piece of shrapnel from the explosion had gotten inside his helmet, Neeld said.

"I had a bad scalp laceration," he said. "Bobby got hit too, but his injury, like mine, was minor."

Both men were taken by a small boat to the hospital ship, Hope, anchored outside the battle zone, Neeld said.

"I spent most of the time on board a ship in a hospital," he said. "Then that fall, they dropped the atom bomb and the war was over."

Never Forgetting

Neeld's experience is just one of dozens of war stories recently collected and video taped by Tyler Junior College to be contributed to a national archive maintained by the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

The archive, known as the Veterans History Project, was created in October 2000 as a means of chronicling the stories and memories of America's war veterans before the opportunity passes.

"There are 19 million war veterans living in the United States today, but every day we lose 1,700 of them," the project's Web site stated.

The Veterans History Project records experiences from World War I, World War II, and the Korean, Vietnam, and Persian Gulf wars. It includes all participants in those wars - men and women, civilian and military.

The project also documents the contributions of civilian volunteers, support staff, and war industry workers as well as the experiences of military personnel from all ranks and all branches of service, including the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, and Navy, U.S. Coast Guard and Merchant Marine.

Currently, more than 800 VHP partners across the country, including TJC, are helping to recorded stories and memories of war veterans.

TJC, through it's Seniors College division of its School of Continuing Studies, announced its plans to participate in the national effort last spring, but wanted to focused squarely on veterans.

"There are many veteran throughout East Texas and their storied and life experiences are a treasure we must not let slip away," Bobbye Rucker, TJC Seniors college coordinator, said in a released statement.

The college's interviews began Sept. 8 and concluded Oct. 10.

Neeld was among the more than 100 area veterans to visit the college.

"I think it's, number one, was a great idea," he said. "I was proud to participate in it."

Interviewees who participated in the TJC project will also be honored during a, "Tribute to Veterans," ceremony scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Wise Auditorium on the college campus, located on Mahon Avenue.

"The public is invited to join us as we recognize veterans who have served in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam war and Desert Storm," Rucker said. "We appreciate the service of the veterans, and we are grateful that so many of them have shared their memories with us and recorded them for the history project."

Neeld said he is looking forward to the ceremony and meeting other veterans who too part in the project.

"We're looking forward to a good turnout," he said. "Of course, it will be nice to be recognized."

Fred Peters, TJC's director of marketing and public information, said the video taped interviews will be submitted to the Library of Congress following the ceremony.

"The stories of these men and women are incredible," Rucker said. "This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for memories to be open to the world and for posterity."

Those wanting more about the Veterans History Project can visit HERE!!!!!. To read or listen to submitted stories or experiences, visit HERE!!!!!.

Shalina Ramirez may be reached via email to citybeat@jacksonvilleprogress.com.

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