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Preparing a Written Record of your Veteran’s Service

Step One: Have a plan

Decide whether you are documenting:

-- a few events that occurred during the veteran’s military service.

-- the story of his/her entire military or combat experience.

-- his/her life’s story.

Obviously that choice will dictate whether you are tackling a booklet or a full-scale manuscript. A booklet is the best choice if you are simply preserving key portions of your veteran’s military and/or combat history for the family, and to submit to the American Veterans Research Library. Also, if you start off with a small project right now, you can always expand on it later.

Step Two: Capturing the story

Decide if YOU are writing this story – or if the veteran in question is doing so.


Option 1:  Ask the veteran to write down the details of his/her military service and several memorable stories. The veteran can write it as a narrative or you can give him a list of questions and he can respond to each one in writing. (Encourage the veteran to provide as much detail as possible.)

Option 2:  Do a live interview with the veteran and later transcribe the portions that you want to preserve in booklet form.

Option 3:  If you really want to turn this into a project, purchase good voice recognition software such as Dragon Naturally Speaking Professional (or Preferred) 9 and set it up so the veteran can dictate his/her story into the computer, where it will be converted into text.

  1. Hints for interviewing and writing:
    Don’t worry about literary style. The initial focus should be on capturing the story. Just write naturally, as if you were telling the story out loud.
  2. Assume that your reader is ignorant of the facts – add details to give the story context and substance. Stories have more impact from a historical viewpoint and for family members when they contain names, dates, places, and people. Describe the building, the climate, the look and feel of a place and a time, as well as the appearance, attitudes or personalities of the people you are recalling. Don’t get overly detailed – but make sure your reader can paint a mental picture. Again, write it as you would say it if you were telling the story to your best friend.
  3. If you are conducting an interview, ask the veteran to relive the memory. What does she recall – colors, sounds, smells, music? Who was there at the time? What happened? Why? What were you thinking and feeling?

For a list of possible questions for your interview, please click here to see our oral history questions.

Step Three: Photos

If the veteran is doing the writing (or dictating), you can use that time to sort and scan (or have someone else scan) pertinent photos from the veteran’s military history. Those photos should be identified as accurately as possible. Pictures can include everything from insignia patches, to images of buddies, to pictures of the countryside and indigenous people where the veteran served.

Remember to do the following as you are sorting/scanning photos. You can make these notes in the captions you write for the photos or you can create a log sheet and log each photo in, supplying this information in a grid.  

1. Identify the photograph

  • Who took the picture?
  • Is there anything written on the front or back?
  • Where did you get the photo?
  • What is occurring in the photo (if it isn’t already obvious)?

2. Explain the photo from the veteran’s perspective

  • Why was the photo taken?
  • Does the photograph illustrate something unique about the veteran’s service or the location where he took the photo?
  • Note the details of the photo – is it indicative of the time period, the conflict or the country/location where it was shot?

Step Four: Putting it all Together

Depending on your creativity and available software, you can flow the finished text and images into a booklet using programs such as Microsoft Word, Quark Xpress, Pagemaker, etc. Click here to see a couple sample layouts.

If you are more limited on creativity or software, consider printing out columns of text and gluing them onto sheets of paper. Photos can be temporarily affixed to the paper (do not glue original photos to the paper – once you are done with them, they should be preserved in an acid-free environment.) When you have your layout finished, you can photocopy and bind the pages for family members (this can be done at relatively low cost and reasonable quality at Kinko’s, Staples, and other such stores). Note: The Gift of Remembrance project would prefer to receive files digitally. If you are not doing a digital layout, please just send us the text and image files on a CD or DVD.

You can choose to get very creative by turning your scanned images into a “movie” using such software as Adobe Premiere, Windows Movie Maker, and others. For the purposes of The Gift of Remembrance project, however, we would prefer to get either digitized booklets or individual digital files that can be archived and eventually placed into a searchable database.

NOTE: All submissions to The Gift of Remembrance project should contain basic details about the veteran being profiled: name, address, place of birth, date of birth, branch of service, e-mail address (if any), names of spouse and children, name of interviewer and interviewer’s contact information.

ALL submissions must be accompanied by a signed release. If the veteran is living, please have him or her sign the release. If the materials are being submitted by family members on behalf of a deceased veteran, please have a family member sign the form. Click here for a release.


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