By Tom Cormier, Co-founder Legacy Stories
Private Heath Matthews waiting for medical attention after a raid on enemy positions during the Korean War, 1952. Photo courtesy of rarehistoricalphotos.com
As a Vietnam vet, I find it easier to share war stories with fellow vets than with non-vets.
But there's a lot more to military life than the worst of the worst. And since only a small fraction of veterans ever see actual combat, there are lots of fascinating stories to be told about other aspects of military life.
In fact, most veterans would be happy to share their military stories about coming of age, buddies for life, humorous situations, exotic cultures, travels, and more. All they need (and want) is for someone to ask. Problem is, most people don't know how.
So, I've complied a list of 10 questions that can 'start the conversation' with any veteran. Trust me, you won't be asking, "Did you kill anyone?" These are questions that elicit stories you'll want to hear and veterans will be happy to share. Once the stories begin to flow, your veteran will be grateful you took the time, and might want to share many more stories.
To my fellow veterans, you are always in my heart and mind. I encourage you to share your stories because they can enrich your family in so many ways. For me, I find this to be very cathartic, and I believe it will be the same for you. For veteran families and others, please follow these steps:
Ask your veteran if he or she wouldn't mind having a brief chat about their military service
Find a quiet space with a 'low risk' of any interruptions (or just make a call)
Share your questions with the veteran before asking (no potential surprises)
Ask the 10 questions below in the order in which they appear. (one builds upon the next)
Ask follow up questions (just as you would when sharing stories with anyone else)
This dialog can be enormously beneficial, even therapeutic, for your veteran. You may become that special person your veteran trusts enough to 'continue the conversation' in more depth. What a gift!
TEN QUESTIONS TO ASK A VETERAN
What motivated you to join the military?
Tell me a little about your time in boot camp.
What was (is) your primary job after training (MOS)?
Where did you serve the majority of time in service?
What rank are you most proud to have earned, and why?
Which medals or citations are you most honored to have received, and why?
Tell me about some of the special people you met.
What was the best and worst 'military' food you were served, and why?
Tell me a funny story you experienced that could only happen in the military.
How did (does) your military experience affect your life today?
If your veteran feels up to it, I highly recommend recording the stories (preferably in audio). This will not only capture the veteran's stories in his or her unique voice, personality and dialect, but you can always transcribe the audio into the written word. Although video is a powerful medium, without experienced preparation, many people become too self-conscious of their appearance or other distractions.
Ask your veteran if there are any photos he or she would like to share. Many veterans don't know how to tell their stories. But reminiscing with photos can often elicit a flow of conversation that can easily be recorded.
Give the recordings to the vet, or help make them available online or in a physical form of some kind. Either way, you'll be giving your veteran a chance to see the affect these stories have on people today, while leaving a legacy for future generations tomorrow.
TOOLS TO HELP YOU GET STARTED
Legacy Stories offers a free mobile app for recording in audio. You can also add a legacy photo.
You can build your own story portfolio, or help your veteran establish his or hers, too, by creating a free account on the Legacy Stories website.
You can continue the conversation by choosing from 200+ questions and more with the Legacy Stories Handbook. The moment a word is entered into the handbook, it becomes one of the most important family documents.
If you want to help a veteran tell his or her story, please share Tom's article with others. legacystories.org
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