Dan Coyne, a Goshen College alumnus, traveled to a convention in DC in August with 34 World War II veterans, including his father, Frank. This convention, recognizing Elkhart County WWII veterans, led Coyne to instigate an ongoing collection of the oral histories of veterans from Elkhart County.
“Here is an opportunity to get some of these stories down,” said Coyne. “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if the Mennonite culture and the WWII veteran culture could relate to each other?’”
The initiative is part of a larger project through the Library of Congress, pulling together the oral interviews of those involved in wars in which the United States contributed. WWII veterans from Elkhart County are lined up for interviews throughout the next nine months. Individuals who chose Conscientious Objector (CO) status or did service will also be interviewed.
"This project is clearly for veterans, but we wanted to include people who were involved in service, too,” said John D. Roth, professor of history, “[This project] can create possibility for some personal friendship to emerge.”
Roth, along with Joe Liechty, professor of Peace, Justice, and Conflict Studies, along with other GC professors, is scheduled to join with community members in helping conduct roughly 75 interviews in the spring.
Three interviews have been recorded so far, and 10 more are scheduled before Christmas. GC President Jim Brenneman conducted the first interview with Frank Coyne, Dan’s father.
"In interviewing Frank, I gained a deep appreciation for his observations, his personal struggles, his sadness about the need for war, and his resolve to work for a more peaceful planet," said Brenneman. "He gave me insight into a world that was not part of my own experience. He was a delightful person...a new found friend."
The interview format comes from a standard procedure released from the Library of Congress that includes an outline of suggested questions, although personalized questions are also encouraged.
“What I’ve found is that many [veterans] have stories not shared with their family for whatever reason,” said Coyne. “The families are so appreciative of these stories.”
Coyne added that many of the veterans face illness. The interview process has become replicable enough for interviewers to visit individuals at their home, at the hospital or at a nursing home.
Interview material will eventually be donated to the collection at the Library of Congress, and each veteran will receive DVD copies of their interview for their family.
Through this oral history project, “We can see more fully what the world looks like to a World War II veteran,” said Roth.