Effort under way to preserve oral history of veterans in Pittsburgh region

By Len Barcousky / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

An online archive devoted to preserving firsthand accounts of military service by southwestern Pennsylvania residents has doubled its holdings following a recent event at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum.

About 150 veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam attended weekend activities at the military museum in Oakland.

About 50 of the participants took part in video or photographic recording of their experiences during the nation’s conflicts. Those newest multimedia narratives and images will be added to a similar-sized collection of materials begun in 2011.

The event, which included lunch and a museum tour, marked the launch of a partnership between Soldiers & Sailors and “Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh Transmedia Oral History Initiative.”

“Telling a story with artifacts can only share a part of a veteran’s story,” John F. McCabe, Soldiers & Sailors president, said in a statement. “But, to watch them tell their story and see their emotions firsthand will help future generations make a connection.”

Saturday’s “Celebrations of Veterans” event was an expanded version of the monthly Veterans Breakfast Club’s meetings organized by Todd DePastino. Mr. DePastino is one of the original partners in the Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh effort.

It began last year when Kevin Farkas, a Navy veteran and Beaver County native, started to record other veterans’ stories for their families. That Social Voice Project’s Veteran Voices effort expanded earlier this year into a multimedia partnership that uses videography and still photography to preserve voices and images of Pittsburgh-area veterans from all branches of military service.

In addition to Mr. Farkas and Mr. DePastino, others involved in the Veteran Voices partnership include Chris Rolinson of StartPoint Media Inc. and Andy Marchese of Andy Marchese Photography.

Soldiers & Sailors had sought to do its own recording of veterans stories, but the museum had limited resources to devote to the project, Mr. McCabe said. Soldiers & Sailors, however, can archive current and new “Veteran Voices” materials collected through the partnership.

On two days each month, veterans will be invited to Soldiers & Sailors to share their stories. Museum curators plan to provide the vets with artifacts from their eras of service to help jog their memories.

Some of the materials collected so far are available on the project’s website, veteranvoicesofpittsburgh.com. Veterans can register to do an interview on that site or by calling Mr. DePastino at 412-623-9029.

Veterans interested in registering for future events with the Veterans Breakfast Club can get more information at the nonprofit’s website, veteransbreakfastclub.com.

As part of an effort to make the “Veteran Voices” materials more accessible to the public, Soldiers & Sailors is seeking funding to create a digital exhibit at the museum, spokeswoman Colleen Elms said.