West Point Center for Oral History hits milestone with 500th interview

By Lt. Col. David Siry Department of History

January 10th, 2019 | News, News and Features
 Lt. Col. David Siry conducts an interview for the West Point Center for Oral History with Lt. Gen. William Ely, USMA Class of 1933, before his death in 2017 at age 105.         Courtesy Photo
 During a shoot on location in Westminster, Calif., for the West Point Center for Oral History, Class of 2020 Cadet Chris Dao interviews a Vietnamese veteran about his experiences during the war. Courtesy Photo

This week, the West Point Center for Oral History hit a milestone by posting its 500th interview online. One of the Dean’s research centers, the COH is funded as a “Margin of Excellence” program by the U.S. Military Academy’s Association of Graduates.
Its mission is “To record, preserve and present the stories of Soldiers, statesmen and others who have influenced the profession of arms, in order to inspire, educate and develop cadets, establish strategic outreach for West Point and the Army, and create new primary source material for scholars, with the purpose of contributing to the development of aspiring Army officers, enhancing the public’s understanding of the experience of the Soldier, and contributing to analytical discourse in the field of history.”
To accomplish its mission, the Center for Oral History casts a wide net, recording interviews with those who served, from private to general, family members, politicians, graduates of the service academies and others who have served, including in foreign militaries.
The Center currently boasts six archives: “USMA Leaders Through History,” sponsored by USMA ‘61; “The Vietnam War,” sponsored by USMA ‘65; “Combatting Terrorism,” sponsored by Vincent Viola, USMA ‘77; “Soldier to Citizen: Life After the Service,” sponsored by Robb and Lydia Turner, USMA ‘84; “Honor and Integrity,” sponsored by USMA ‘77; and “The Brent Scowcroft Series in Military History,” sponsored by retired Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft, USMA ‘47.
Future archival expansion includes “The Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” partially sponsored by USMA ‘94, “The African-American Military Experience,” “Women in the Military,” and “Army Athletics.”
“Margin of Excellence” support has allowed the center’s leadership to travel to record interviews at veterans’ reunions in locations like Phoenix, Washington D.C., Clarksville, Tennessee, and Chicago.  The center also travels to reach specific interview populations who are underrepresented in the COH collection, such as Vietnamese veterans and refugees in Westminster, California, and New Orleans.
The center has participated in both the Oral History Association and the American Historical Association conferences and is recognized as a leader in the field.
This coming spring, the center will attend the Society for Military History Conference with a cadet-led panel on using oral history to tell the story of both Soldiers and civilians in the Vietnam War.
C-SPAN also broadcast eight Center for Oral History interviews as part of a commemoration of the Vietnam War.
Supporting cadet education, the center has provided assistance to cadet senior theses, cadet projects and the Special Leader Development Program for Honor.
Cadets have also conducted multiple interviews in support of their research. Five hundred interviews online is a milestone, but it also represents a challenge to continue to grow, and to produce high-quality interviews that reach the widest audience possible.
The Center for Oral History uses no government funds whatsoever, relying exclusively on private donations through the West Point Association of Graduates. All of the Center’s published interviews are available online at www.westpointcoh.org, and new interviews are advertised on Facebook (West Point Center for Oral History) and Twitter (West Point COH).