Documenting Courage: Veterans Preserving Their Own History

Written by Sarah Calise, graduate assistant

There are plenty of projects and initiatives at historical institutions throughout the country that strive to preserve and respectfully present veterans’ stories. One of the most common formats in which veterans voice their experience is through oral history. The Albert Gore Research Center houses hundreds of veterans oral histories and partners with the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project. Yet, many don’t realize that veterans are also preserving their own history.

Many military units create websites and produce newsletters in order to maintain or rekindle friendships, honor those who have died, share memories, discuss life after war, and plan reunions. The stories and photographs featured in these publications provide veterans with the opportunity to document their war experiences with each other and for each other.

Recently, I processed a small but invaluable collection of newsletters produced and distributed by World War II veteran Winston Bowling, who served in the 65th Signal Battalion of the United States Army. Bowling collaborated with many of his fellow veterans to create these publications. He encouraged his comrades to send him photographs, letters, and brief stories from their time in war-torn Europe to share in the newsletters. Some of the material is funny, inspiring, and disheartening. Above all, the deep bonds forged between these men during battle shine through in these newsletters, and often these close ties extended to their families and across generational lines.

A majority of the newsletters feature copies of photographs sent to Bowling by fellow veterans. Some captions attempt to identify soldiers, like the one in the top right. 65th Signal Battalion Newsletter, April 2002

These newsletters are an untapped resource. Scholars studying war memory and veterans history should utilize these publications in their analyses. There are several areas of intrigue within each issue. The newsletters reveal how veterans feel about their place in society since their time in war, and they express their views on current conflicts. They also explore how veterans remember their experiences and what events, places, or people stood out the most several decades later. Honoring and remembering those who have passed is another a major portion of the newsletters. Archival repositories and historical institutions should give greater recognition to the value of these sources and make an effort to collect and preserve these documents.

The Winston Bowling 65th Signal Battalion Newsletters are open for research, and the collection runs from November 1994 through August 2008 with roughly three issues annually. The veterans featured in the newsletters mostly served during World War II with campaigns in Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsace, and Central Europe. A finding aid with a detailed inventory will be placed on the Albert Gore Research Center website soon.

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