Saying ‘thank you’ by listening: The Veterans History Project

Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler brings Library of Congress project to Vancouver

VANCOUVER — Inside the Historic Trust’s Artillery Barracks Banquet Room, government leaders gathered community members to hear from some of the most extraordinary people in the country. 

Together, they furthered the Veterans History Project. Simply by listening. 

John “Jack” Hooghkirk is interviewed by Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler during her event with the Veterans History Project. Photo by Jacob Granneman
John “Jack” Hooghkirk is interviewed by Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler during her event with the Veterans History Project. Photo by Jacob Granneman

Spearheaded by Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler, the meeting brought together more than a dozen service men and women from WWII to the Gulf Wars. Veterans were paired up with community members and each pair’s interview audio was recorded.

“It’s done in conjunction with members of Congress, where we’re literally bringing an oral history preservation project here to Vancouver,” the Congresswoman said. “We’re going to be interviewing dozens and dozens of veterans throughout our nation’s history to preserve their specific stories forever in the halls of the Library of Congress.”

After interviews are completed, the audio is sent to the Library of Congress for archiving. Anyone can participate, as the Congresswoman demonstrated at Friday’s event.

“One small way that I felt like we could do something to honor your sacrifice was to record your oral accounts of history and making sure that they are preserved for the next generation,” Herrera Beutler said. “What we’re going to hear today are the first hand accounts of history straight from the source.” 

Community members gather at the Historic Trust’s Artillery Barracks Banquet Room for Jaime Herrera Beutler’s event with the Library of Congress for the Veterans History Project. Photo by Jacob Granneman
Community members gather at the Historic Trust’s Artillery Barracks Banquet Room for Jaime Herrera Beutler’s event with the Library of Congress for the Veterans History Project. Photo by Jacob Granneman

Herrera Beutler was paired up with John “Jack” Hooghkirk who served in the Navy during World War II. Over the course of about 30 minutes, she interviewed him on his experiences in the Navy as a signalman on merchant ships from 1942 to the end of the war.

Serving in the Armed Guard, Hooghkirk worked on merchant ships to defend them from possible enemy attack in the Pacific Ocean. As a signalman, he kept watch for enemy vessels, and would alert the 20-some sailors on the ship to occupy the gunnery stations. 

The Congresswoman spoke with Hooghkirk about growing up before WWII, during the attack on Pearl Harbor and up to his time enlisting in the Navy. Hooghkirk has lived in the Pacific Northwest for many years now, after moving from southern California where he served out of as well. 

“Myself and the two other friends of mine went to a movie that afternoon, it was a Sunday,” Hooghkirk said, describing where he was when the Japaneese attacked Pearl Harbor. “In those days they didn’t have television, of course, and so they had newsboys with newspapers … we came out and these boys were running around all over the place. The Japaneese had bombed Pearl Harbor and we thought they were on their way to California.”  

John “Jack” Hooghkirk served in the Navy during WWII as a signalman on a merchant ship in the Pacific. Photo by Jacob Granneman
John “Jack” Hooghkirk served in the Navy during WWII as a signalman on a merchant ship in the Pacific. Photo by Jacob Granneman

Questions for the interview were supplied by the project, and many are the same for anyone who participates in an interview. Interviewers, including the Congresswoman, also add in questions that they think of throughout. 

During Friday’s event, many members of the community came out to be paired with veterans, and after Hooghkirk and Herrera Beulter concluded their interview, they all split to conduct their own pieces of the project. 

Area author Fredrick Hudgin, also read aloud an original poem he wrote about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington D.C. as part of the event. Hudgin, a veteran of Vietnam himself, shared through his poem on the loss and great sacrifice paid through war.

“It’s spooky place to go there and you see the spirit reflections of everyone walking through it,” Hudgin said of the Wall in D.C. “And you can almost see the ghost of the people whose names were there.”

One other large component of the days’ gathering focused on a Clark County filmmaker and his current documentary about the African American regiment known as the Buffalo Soldiers.

During his interview with Herrera Beutler, Jack shared his memories from the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Photo by Jacob Granneman
During his interview with Herrera Beutler, Jack shared his memories from the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Photo by Jacob Granneman

Dru Holley, who recently moved from Colorado to Washington, began work on the Buffalo Soldiers documentary after receiving the 2019 GAP Award with funding for the film. Holley has completed more than 200 productions, and is illustrating connection to the Pacific Northwest with his latest piece. 

“Because of the veteran’s sacrifice and your sacrifices, we have the freedom to pursue such liberties like the arts,” Holley said. “So thank you.” 

The film follows, among others, the life of Buffalo Soldier Sgt. Moses Williams who was Oregon’s first Medal of Honor recipient, and who is buried in Vancouver Barracks Cemetery. 

As part of the event, his film’s trailer was shown, and he spoke on the importance of the Buffalo Soldiers story in the larger story of veterans through America’s history. 

If you would like more information of the Veterans History Project or on how to contribute your own interview with a veteran, visit the website or email vohp@loc.gov

Interviews must be at least 30 minutes, and can be video or audio recorded. Submissions of 20 or more pages of original journals, diaries or memoirs as well as 10 or more photographs can also be submitted.  

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About The Author

Jacob Granneman is a filmmaker and writer from Clark County. He is a graduate of Washington State University’s Edward R. Murrow College, where he studied journalism and media production. He has produced documentary stories all over the Pacific Northwest and abroad in Argentina. His passions range from sharing the love of Jesus, to cinematography, to going on adventures in the most beautiful place on earth, i.e. his backyard. He lives with his wife in Vancouver, WA. Proverbs 16:3

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