Whether it may be boots on Normandy or manned hours behind a desk, thousands of hours of local legacies are being submitted to the Library of Congress, where they will live on with a national audience, thanks to local Veteran John McHenry.
The project, which is a partnership between McHenry and the Portsmouth Public Library, has witnessed the telling of over 200 stories through recorded video from local veterans.
McHenry said that the project began after he read a book and was left inspired.
“I read a book called The Greatest Generation and there was a story in there that kind of reminded me a little bit, in some relation, to my dad, who was killed in the war,” McHenry said. “I got to thinking about the book and the stories within the book and realized we are losing these guys and their stories needed to be preserved, so I started recording people. I started recording veterans.”
McHenry’s project began in 1999, ran for some time before a break, and then returned, fiercely, in 2016.
“I really had to get back to work, but, after some time, I started to realize I really missed these guys and their stories. I wondered where I would have been if I had kept going,” McHenry said. “We’ve been back at it for six years now and, geez, there is one guy—to give you an idea of the impact, because it does have an impact—one of the very first recordings I did was for a man named Ray Mullen. He lived in South Webster and was a teacher and I think Superintendent for a while, but, man, he landed in Normandy. He was there in 1944, as part of the D Day Invasion. He passed away a few years ago and his son has told me, ‘Ya know, I watch that all the time and it brings tears to my eye,’ It just has an impact on people. There was another, I don’t remember which video it was, but a young girl called the library and said she had never met, saw, talked to her grandfather before until she looked at that tape and it just brought her to tears. These are things that are meaningful to people.”
So far, there are well over four straight days of recorded experiences, with each video averaging 30 minutes. While that is an average, few last at a shorter recording, but some go as far as an hour. The longest video is nearly two hours. All videos are open to the public, outside of one particularly emotional video that is limited to family.
The early days of the project began with VHS recording tapes, which were shelved in the library for people to view. Today, the videos are digitally recorded and are uploaded on the library’s website and YouTube.
The recordings go on today and two notables who are getting videos in coming weeks include baseball legend Al Oliver and musician Steve Free.
“You learn that, sometimes, ordinary people can do absolutely extraordinary things,” McHenry said. “If you’re in line at Kroger and the old guy in front of you just seems like an old guy in front of ya, he may have a story. He might have walked across France with a rifle. He may have climbed a mountain with a heavy pack or sweated in a desert or through the jungle. You just learn about the reservoir of courage and the ability of ordinary people to do extraordinary things. It is incredibly. It is thrilling, in a way.”
McHenry says it is an honor to have the videos selected to join the Library of Congress.
“We are thrilled at quite an honor. We are thrilled they are interested in our little collection,” McHenry said. “It means that people from this area have a national audience now. Veterans in Scioto County have a national, well, worldwide, audience now.”
The videos join thousands of others that have been collected by the Library of Congress.
“To be part of something to prestigious, so important as the Library of Congress, is thrilling and is something everybody in Scioto County can be proud of, particularly the veterans,” McHenry said.
Reach Joseph Pratt at (740) 353-3101, by email at [email protected], © 2022 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved