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Duke Museum to save stories of Vietnam War veterans

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The relationship between Rockmart’s annual Homespun Festival and Duke Museum of Military History is one of shared tradition. The Homespun Festival celebrates the tradition of communities sharing music, art and good food with family and friends.

Likewise, the museum celebrates the tradition of honoring service to country through its exhibit of military memorabilia where kids (supervised) can sit behind the wheel of a Vietnam-era camouflaged jeep, parents can view a sampling of the medals bestowed on our heroes, and veterans of wars past and present can trade stories under the awning trimmed in red, white and blue.

The Duke Museum is more than a collection of memories and metal. The museum sponsors programs where local business leaders talk to new soldiers about such nonmilitary subjects as financial planning.

It participates in fundraisers like the recent Freedom Run, a local motivational run for U.S. Army recruits. And, in 2017, museum founder Leslie Duke drove the lead vehicle for the National Run for the Fallen, a 6,000-mile journey ending at Arlington National Cemetery that raises money to honor the nearly 20,000 soldiers killed in action since the war on terror began.

Riding with Duke in the Gulf War era M1026 High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle was a Gold Star father who lost his son in Iraq.

This year, Duke is using the occasion of the festival to announce the launch of a partnership with the Vietnam Veterans Oral History Project, a partnership Duke describes as a perfect fit for the museum’s mission of “preserving the military history of past generations for the education of future generations.”

The project works with the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. to collect the stories of the quickly disappearing Vietnam War veteran population.

Veterans who record their stories are given the original recording and transcript (free of charge) and then, with their permission, copies are archived with the Library’s Veterans History Project.

There, anyone from historians to high school history students to family members, can access the stories simply by clicking on the veteran’s name.

VVOHP founder Tricia Cambron met the museum’s media operations director Kiwan Thrash at last year’s Homespun Festival where she was recruiting veterans to tell their stories. Recently, Thrash invited VVOHP to partner with the museum. Cambron’s answer was an enthusiastic yes.

“One of the hardest parts of doing this project has been, first, simply locating Vietnam veterans, and second, convincing them to tell their stories.” Cambron said. “I’ve been circling the Walmart parking lot for the past year flagging down anybody driving a car with a veterans license plate or wearing a Vietnam War veterans’ T-shirt. Being able to approach veterans through the museum should really increase the number of stories we are able to tell.”

Duke says Vietnam veterans are regular visitors to the museum, and they often share bits of their stories. It is frustrating, he says, to hear these stories and not have a way to share them with the public, especially younger generations.

“The rate at which we are losing our older veterans who fought in earlier conflicts makes this mission imperative,” Duke says. “We’re really excited to partner with Tricia and the VVOHP, and we’re thankful to her for allowing us to join her on this journey.”

“Having a partner like the museum that feels as passionately as I do about the importance of giving these veterans a chance to tell their stories is incredibly inspiring,” Cambron said.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

♦ Vietnam Veterans Oral History Project (VVOHP) contact Tricia Cambron by phone or text at 270-217-9134 or by email at tcambron5@gmail.com.

♦ Duke Museum of Military History, see the “Duke Museum of Military History” on Facebook, or contact Kiwan Thrash at 706-506-4077. The museum at 110 E. Eighth Ave. in Rome is open Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For a link to the Library of Congress Veterans History Project, see http://www.loc.gov/vets.