By Ekland Durousseau, American Red Cross contributor
Surrounded by a group of volunteers, Arnold van Ek finds himself in an unusual position, storyteller. As a Service to the Armed Forces volunteer, van Ek usually takes a less visible role behind the camera recording the personal accounts of military veterans and their families.
With a twinkle in his eye, he shares a few of the more memorable accounts, eliciting oohs and aahs from the group.
“I love the stories,” said van Ek “They are often the kind you don’t read about in books and it is very satisfying to hear about them first hand.”
Van Ek has heard hundreds of stories. In the five years he has been a Red Cross volunteer he has heard 200, to be exact.
“It is amazing how often you find a veteran not willing to talk about his war experience to his family, but when I come in as a stranger they are willing to do this.”
In honor of submitting 200 video interviews, the Library of Congress honored van Ek with a certificate of appreciation and Michael Chaison, Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces Manager for Southwest Rocky Mountain Division flew to Houston to present it to him.
“When you think about all of the time that goes into producing these interviews it is easily over 1,000 hours of volunteer work,” said Chaison. “The United States loses a veteran a day. Mr. van Ek creating a lasting record of so many veteran service stories is quite a legacy.”
The Red Cross is assisting the Library of Congress with the Veterans History Project of the American Folklife Center. The Project’s mission is to collect, preserve, and make accessible the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war.
As a whole, the Red Cross has submitted over 2,000 stories to the Library of Congress. If you would like to share your story for posterity as part of the Veterans History Project, or volunteer to conduct and record the interviews, please contact the Red Cross at (713) 313-5302.