Five years of collecting the stories of veterans who survived World War II came to a close this week in the south Augusta home of Bill Evans.
Evans, 89, a Navy veteran who taught fellow sailors how to pilot troop carriers, was interview No. 786 for the Veterans History Project and likely its last. The project was created by the Library of Congress in 2000 and launched locally by the Augusta-Richmond County Historical Society in the fall of 2007. Since then, about 100 volunteers have crossed the Augusta area collecting the stories of World War II service members. They’ve also collected stories from a handful of civilians who helped support the war efforts.
On Tuesday, retired Army Maj. Gen. Jan Hicks was conducting the interview, just as she has more than 100 times before. Her subject, Evans, was reserved at first, but soon opened up about his childhood in South Carolina.
“When I grew up I wanted to be a millionaire,” Evans said with a chuckle, then launched into a detailed description of Depression life. “I remember my uncle saying one time ‘I can’t afford to live.’ ”
He was welding ships in Charleston when he was drafted into the Navy and assigned to troop carrier training. The only time he came close to sea sickness was when the ship turned in circles during choppy waters, waiting for the weather to clear so it could dock.
“I had just eaten greasy pork chops, too. It wasn’t good,” Evans said.
Tuesday’s interview was videotaped just like all the others. Hicks will later write a summary of the interview, along with creating chapters within the interview using time stamps. That will be sent to the Library of Congress. Another copy will be given to Evans and another kept in the local records.
While the interviews are finished, there’s still work to be done. Two history professors at Augusta State University and the University of South Carolina Aiken are reviewing the tapes independently and grading them for historical relevancy. The top 100 of nearly 800 interviews will be transcribed for a book and certain 2-3 minute segments rolled into a larger film.
Fred Gehle, the lead coordinator for the Veterans History Project, said the close of interviews is a bittersweet moment, but he’s looking forward to the next challenge.
“I’m excited to be moving on,” Gehle said.