UWNEMN launches Operation: Soldier Story oral history project

When United Way of Northeastern Minnesota (UWNEMN)’s United for Veterans initiative brought The Wall That Heals traveling Vietnam Veterans Memorial to Chisholm in 2022, UWNEMN staff heard from veterans and their loved ones about an unexpected and significant impact.

“Many veterans shared their stories for the first time, and it was so powerful – in some instances, lifechanging,” said UWNEMN Community Impact Coordinator Michelle Lampton.

In hopes of bringing that experience to more veterans and servicemembers across its service area (Iron Range, Koochiching County, and Lake of the Woods County), UWNEMN has launched “Operation: Soldier Story,” an oral history project and new component of United for Veterans.  

Through the project, local volunteers will be trained to conduct interviews, and UWNEMN will coordinate scheduling interviews, getting them professionally transcribed, and professionally preserving them in the manner of participating veterans/servicemembers’ choosing. Options include local, state, and national archives as well as future educational purposes including a potential future book project; veterans/servicemembers can also elect their histories be kept private.

Participants will be asked to provide a DD214 or military ID to verify their service; these documents will be kept private with UWNEMN. Local veterans/servicemembers from all branches and all eras are invited to be interviewed.

“Local men and women who served in our armed forces shaped our nation’s history, and their unique perspectives and stories are an important part of our local history,” said UWNEMN Executive Director Erin Shay. “We are honored for this opportunity to preserve those stories the way they deserve to be.”

Operation: Soldier Story was created in partnership with St. Louis County Historical Society (SLCHS)’s Veterans Memorial Hall oral history project and with financial support from Veterans Community Thrift Store in Hibbing.  The project team also includes UWNEMN staff and United for Veterans committee members: U.S. Army Vietnam veterans Bill Hanegmon and Rick Holland as well as Minnesota North College Hibbing Campus History Professor Steve Potts. Hanegmon and Holland have both shared their stories for similar projects and are passionate about encouraging others to do the same; Potts has years of experience collecting oral histories.

SLCHS has been tasked with collecting oral histories of all veterans/servicemembers across St. Louis County and will be training Operation: Soldier Stories volunteers to collect interviews this month. Once volunteers are trained, veterans/servicemembers interested in being interviewed can contact UWNEMN at any time to schedule an interview at a location of their choosing. Interviews can be recorded on video camera or audio recorder. Interested veterans/servicemembers can also contact UWNEMN now to ensure their interviews are scheduled as soon as volunteers have completed training.

Learn more about Operation: Soldier Story | Submit an interest form to be interviewed

 Paper versions of interest forms are available as well; call 218-215-2424 for more information.