Over the course of 10 years, more than 800 local World War II veterans recounted their tales for the Veterans History Project.
A fraction of those tales are recorded in the new book “In Their Own Words: Augusta and Aiken Area Veterans Remember World War II.”
The new book was recently published by the Augusta Richmond County Historical Society.
“Most of the veterans in this book grew up in the Augusta-Aiken area. They were city kids and farm kids, many just out of high school when the war started,” wrote Dr. James Garvey, one of the book’s editors, on the book’s inside jacket flap. “They worked in the stores and mills, they pumped gas and plowed cotton fields, they went to the movies on Broad Street – then suddenly they found themselves fighting for their lives in places they’d never heard of, witnessing horrors and heroism they could not have imagined. And when they returned home, they sought no special recognition. They were merely doing their duty. They got back to work and built the community we live in today. This book tells their story in their own words.”
The Veterans History Project is a nationwide program connected to the Library of Congress, according to the Augusta Richmond County Historical Society’s website.
The Historical Society began its participation in the program in 2007. The first local interview was conducted in November of that year.
In the subsequent decade, hundreds of veterans from Aiken, Augusta, Edgefield and North Augusta in South Carolina, and Thomson, Waynesboro and other local towns in Georgia, were interviewed about their experiences in the war.
The interviews were conducted in hospitals, churches, homes and facilities such as Aiken Technical College.
Each interview was videotaped. Four copies of each video were produced, one for the veteran, one for the Library of Congress and two for the special collections section of Augusta University’s library.
“The discussion to do a book was predicated by the fact that here we’ve done all this work – then it wasn’t 10 years, but it was seven or eight – and they are going to sit in a pile. And people are going to forget about them,” said Frederick Gehle, the Veterans History Project’s local project coordinator.
Of course, squeezing 800-plus stories into one collection was an impossible task, so volunteers sifted through the video footage and selected which stories would be the best to print.
“In Their Own Words” captures the voices of 150 male and female veterans.