by Kay Pinkerton, volunteer contributor
Through the Veterans History Project (VHP), the American Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) invites you to listen to the stories of war.
Straight from the warriors’ mouths.
VHP is part of the Library of Congress American Folklife Center. It was created by the U.S. Congress, in 2000, as an oral history archive that collects and preserves first-hand interviews of America's wartime veterans.
The North Texas SAF team has now joined the Red Cross nationwide effort to recruit and train VHP interviewers to collect these stories. Spearheading the Red Cross local initiative is David Barton, VHP volunteer coordinator for the American Red Cross North Texas region.
“The Library of Congress approached us to help find people who were willing to go out and conduct interviews,” said Barton. “Our team has interviewed a number of veterans, including many who volunteer for the Red Cross. I’ve logged, I think, ten interviews since starting this.”
Barton said a growing number of local veterans have expressed an interest in sharing their stories. Due to the project’s popularity, his team is seeking to recruit and train more interviewers.
The Veteran’s History Project’s stated goal is to record 100,000 stories. The Red Cross is committed to helping the organization surpass that goal.
In addition to audio- and video-recorded interviews, VHP accepts original photographs and letters, diaries, maps, memoirs, and other historical documents from World War I through current conflicts. The result is a priceless, historical archive of first-person interviews that will benefit present and future generations.
Brown Eyes Blue
When asked about a favorite interview, Barton recalled his meeting with Dr. Jim Nicholson.
Dr. Nicholson is a physician who lives in Greenville, Texas. In 2011, he was awarded the Silver Star medal for gallantry in action while serving as a Korean War marine infantryman.
Sixty years ago.
Nicholson was part of a four-man rifle team. His primary job was to operate the deadly Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) portable machine gun. Called “Nick the BAR-man” by his George Company, 3rd Battalion 7th Regiment buddies, Nicholson was reportedly outstanding at his job.
The marines’ objective was to push back Communist North Korean and Chinese forces, thereby preventing them from forcing Communist rule upon the whole country.
Deployed to Korea in early 1951, Nicholson saw action ranging from Operations Killer and Ripper, which were geared to destroy the Chinese Communist People’s Volunteer Army, to the infamous Punchbowl, located in Korea’s Gangwon Province. It was there Nicholson received a tour-ending shrapnel wound.
Dr. Nicholson published a book, which chronicled his wartime experiences, titled George - 3 - 7th Marines: A Brief Glimpse Through Time of a Group of Young Marines. Barton read the book before his scheduled interview with Nicholson.
“The things he and his buddies went through. It’s a miracle he emerged alive,” said Barton.
He was especially intrigued about a passage in the book recounting cold-war battle in the midst of North Korea’s frigid climate.
“The Chinese soldiers were wearing these quilted outfits,” said Barton about the book’s passage. “Whether from perspiration or a bleeding wound, the moisture – mixed with the cold - would freeze the soldiers’ uniforms. They were so frozen, in fact, their bodies couldn’t move. But their eyes could. So with their brown eyes, the frozen Chinese soldiers would communicate to the marines’ blue eyes. And the blue eyes would reply to the brown eyes.”
No words were spoken. Or needed.
“Dr. Nicholson’s recollection of that event seemed almost poetic. So I marked the passage and brought the book with me,” said Barton. “When the doctor reached that point of the war in his interview, I stopped him. ‘Dr. Nicholson,’ I said. ‘You spoke about this experience in your book…about these Chinese guys being so frozen, they could only move their eyes. Would you mind reading it for me?’”
Barton handed the book to the doctor. When Nicholson finished reading the passage, Barton said, “I’ve read the only way you can kill in warfare is by dehumanizing.”
The doctor nodded.
“So how do you account for this?,” asked Barton, pointing to the book’s passage. “This is so intimately personal.”
“That’s a really good question,” the self-described country doctor replied. He paused a moment.
“I can compartmentalize.”
Volunteer or Share Your Story
Red Cross volunteer services to U.S. veterans date back to World War I and are consistent with the mission of its congressional charter. Red Cross support for the VHP demonstrates our commitment to veterans and to the historical importance of their recorded experiences.
If you have a story to tell or know someone who does, please call 214-678-4800. Volunteers are also needed to capture the stories. Visit RedCross.org for more information.