State begins World War II history project

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OGDEN — It’s been nearly 70 years since the end of World War II and, with the number of veterans who fought in the conflict on a steady decline, Utah wants their stories preserved and kept in a safe place.

The Utah Department of Veterans and Military Affairs and the Utah Division of State History have begun a project to collect the stories and artifacts of Utah veterans who served in World War II, specifically asking for memories and mementos from the end of the war, which happened officially on Sept. 2, 1945, after Japanese leaders signed surrender documents on the deck of the American battleship USS Missouri. 

The two agencies have created an online process that asks veterans to remember where they were when the war ended and to describe their experiences, feelings and memories from that historic day. The online tool went live this month and can be found at mymilitarystory.utah.gov.

The site guides veterans through a four-step process that asks for basic personal information and information about their military service. The questionnaire also features more pointed questions, asking veterans details like the time and place they learned the war was over, what people or groups were involved, historical and personal details surrounding the experience and insights. Finally, veterans are asked to take that information and form their own personal narrative.

The site asks veterans to acknowledge that the information they share is correct and truthful. It also allows veterans an option to have the information they submit restricted from public access, but only for a period of 10 years or less. 

The Utah VA says family members or friends can complete the process for veterans who are unable do it themselves by filing out a similar form also found on the website.

Jim Bedingfield, a veteran service officer with the Utah VA, said at some point, the state will expand the project to include veterans from other conflicts, but right now, World War II is the priority.

“Unfortunately, a lot of (World War II veterans) are passing away rapidly,” Bedingfield said. “It’s a generation that is vanishing.”

Veterans and their families are also encouraged to donate artifacts, such as diaries, photos and memoirs, to state or local historical agencies. The organizations that accept these items are listed on the Utah Department of Veterans and Military Affairs website.

The Special Collections Department at Weber State University’s Stewart Library is one of eight repositories collecting artifacts. Sarah Langsdon, associate curator of Special Collections, said the department is interested in adding any materials from veterans who have lived in Weber or Davis counties. WSU has several collections dealing with both world wars, and is looking to expand those holdings. For more information, contact Langsdon at slangsdon@weber.edu.

Utah VA Director Gary Harter and State History Director Brad Westwood both said the historical record of individual service will become a precious asset to Utah and the nation.

“It’s a terrific way to preserve the stories of those Utahns who served in World War II and (get) their unique perspective on the end of that conflict,” Harter said. 

According to the site, information gathered will be used by the state of Utah at exhibitions, publications, websites, readings and other historical functions.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, there are just over 7,000 World War II veterans currently living in Utah. More than 65,000 Utahns served in the military during the war.