On a slope overlooking a busy bypass road in Charlottesville sits the oldest public-civic memorial in America dedicated to veterans of the Vietnam War. Twenty-eight plaques at the Dogwood Vietnam Memorial tell the stories of 28 local men who died in Vietnam. The veterans who now upkeep the 52-year-old memorial call it “the hill that heals”.
“These were people who had so much potential, and their lives were snuffed out at age 19, 20, 21 22,” said Bruce Eades, board member of the Dogwood Vietnam Memorial Foundation and commander of the American Legion Post 74 in Keswick, Va.
For Eades and other local Vietnam veterans, the hill keeps alive the spirit of selfless sacrifice. It honors those who put their lives on hold to answer the call of their country; those who saw the full value in the life next to them, because death doesn’t discriminate.
A local nonprofit called ParadeRest Virginia is embarking on a project this summer to collect and preserve the stories of these veterans. ParadeRest interviewers will sit down with local Vietnam veterans and guide an extended conversation about their experiences and views surrounding the Vietnam War. Then, ParadeRest will send copies of the interview videos to the Library of Congress, where they will be catalogued and curated for students, researchers, and historians to study and interpret.
In addition, ParadeRest will distribute copies of the interview videos to family members who may be curious about their relatives’ service stories but who may be reluctant to ask about them.
By embarking on this project -- called “A Nickel for your Story: Vietnam” -- ParadeRest seeks to provide veterans a way to capture their stories for posterity, to further bind families through a greater sense of their histories, and to engage University of Virginia and high school students in the process of historical storytelling.
“The Jefferson nickel is enduring, providing a tangible national symbol of this special community,” said Dr. Gregory Saathoff, co-founder and board member of ParadeRest Virginia, who is also a professor at the University of Virginia School of Medicine.
“Through this program, we aim to ensure that these personal military oral histories of veterans who live in Central Virginia also endure so that their families and historians in the future can have a better appreciation of their service and sacrifice,” Saathoff said.
ParadeRest Virginia was founded in 2009 with a mission to support Central Virginia military veterans and their families. Since its founding, members of the University of Virginia and Charlottesville community have sought to connect these families with the life of the city and to remind them that their service to a greater civic purpose are appreciated.
This reminder is more important now than ever before, with the proportion of Americans who have served in the military continuing to decrease. In 2016, 7 percent of U.S. adults were veterans, down from 18 percent in 1980, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
In 2015, ParadeRest began the first edition of its oral history project, in which local World War II veterans were interviewed. Videos that captured more than 50 powerful stories were then sent to the archive at the Library of Congress.
ParadeRest’s latest chapter of the “Nickel for your Story” project will build on the success of its World War II interviews and will capture the stories of veterans who fought in one of the most divisive conflicts in American history.
By collecting these stories, we can come to better understand the Vietnam War. After all, stories help us make sense of the world, and war stories help us make sense of war.
For more information, please visit the ParadeRest Virginia web site at: www.paraderestva.org