Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island -- Over twenty military war veterans gathered at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island Museum July 31 to give first-hand accounts of their service during past conflicts.
The veterans, who participated in past military conflicts such as World War II and the Vietnam War, participated in a conference hosted by members of the Veterans History Project and student veterans from the Technical College of the Lowcountry located in Beaufort, S.C.
The conference allowed the veterans to have their unedited stories recorded and stored for future generations.
“Our goal is to collect, preserve and make accessible the first-hand accounts of U.S. war veterans so that people can better understand the realities of war,” said Andrew Hubert, a member of the Veterans History Project who oversaw the conference. “It’s an unedited, uncensored view of military service, both the good and the bad.”
Throughout the day various volunteers took time setting down with the veterans, some of whom were over 90-years-old and conducting interviews and listening to their stories. Various sections of the museum were temporarily closed to the public and set up to facilitate the interviews.
The majority of the interviewees were World War II veterans, a group that is rapidly declining as the years pass by. According to the National World War II Museum, only 558,000 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II were still alive in 2017. Many of the veterans live in the Beaufort and Bluffton areas of South Carolina, but some came from Savannah, Ga. and Colombia, S.C. Approximately 26 had their stories recorded by the group.
Edward Cilli was one of World War II veterans interviewed during the day by the group. Cilli, who is 96 years old, enlisted in 1942 and served as a combat radioman in several bloody conflicts in the South Pacific. Cilli said the loss so many of his fellow veterans makes it that much more important to make sure their story is told.
“My son talked me into this but I’m glad I got in here,” said Cilli, shortly after recording his interview. “It’s under a million [World War II veterans] now left. We’re slowly disappearing so it’s good to get this written down so other people can read about it and get the information.”
Huber said having the museum as a setting and active-duty Marines and veterans on hand to help with the interviews contributed to the event’s success.
“We could not do this without TCL and the Museum,” he said. “When we have a backdrop like this, where everyone understands their sacrifice, it makes all the difference. Especially when we have veterans interviewing veterans, that makes all the difference because they can open up to them."
Henry Dreier, a Marine Corps Veteran and President of the college’s Student Veteran’s Chapter, helped organize the event after meeting Hubert at a student veteran conference in Texas.
Dreier said the event exceeded his expectations and a second is in the works.
“We thought it was going to be pulling teeth getting guys to show up and share their stories,” he said. “What ended up happening was we were full before we ever advertised. It shows veterans want to tell their stories. They want this knowledge to get out there.”