On June 15th, 2017, a new day began for Rusty Edmister of Chapel Hill VFW Post 9100. It was a day of reflection in that on the day prior Rusty had completed another Oral History of a veteran–his 334th interview. No, that number is correct–334 individual interviews of service men and women.
With a miniature video camera, several extra tapes and a spare battery, he had headed off on June 14th to meet with a veteran. Rusty was on a quest. He often speaks of the many men and women he has met all over North Carolina and surrounding areas. Each has a unique story to tell. A story of their days, weeks, months, and maybe even years of military service.
He may receive a lead from a family member, another veteran, or through an encounter at a coffee shop, restaurant, civic event, or picnic. Veterans are everywhere, but not all of them wear a distinctive military or service ball cap, jacket, or mark their car with an “I’ve Served” bumper sticker. Wherever they are, Rusty is driven to meet them and tell them his story.
It’s the story of a retired IBM employee who served himself in the military. He had heard of a North Carolina Archives project to record oral histories and joined in that effort. He worked on it for more than a year and over 100 interviews. Now he continues his recordings, much like the fictional Songcatcher of North Carolina who scoured the mountains and hollers of North Carolina in a quest to record mountain music. The difference with Rusty is that his quest is very real and extremely important. It is a race against time and the impending loss of lives of our remaining World War II and Korean War veterans.
Each has a story to tell that will disappear with their passing. He “has to” capture their stories while there is time. Many children of those who served never really talk to their mother, father, sister or brother. Within the veteran there is a story, however slight, about their experiences. It may be about the time they were drafted and sent off to one of the hundreds of training centers, stations, and camps that dotted these United States of America. It might be the story of a volunteer that was rejected due to a medical condition before the war, but who was accepted once the draft call had his name on the local Draft Board’s list. Or, maybe, the story of a sailor who was sent off to a far away island to build an airfield or port in time to support arriving United States Marines working their way towards Japan. There are lots and lots of unrecorded stories.
But there is a worse story. It is the story of a son or grandchild who realizes that Pops, Gramps, Uncle Bill, or Aunt Stella passed away. They’ll be sitting on a porch, at a beach, be in school or at home, when the phone rings or they get a FaceBook or Twitter alert. Time does not wait and Rusty, as well as his fellow veterans, have heard the sorrowful stories of an opportunity unfulfilled. This is what drives Rusty and other veterans to record oral histories. Time will not wait. It’s time to capture another story.
Our Post is very proud to have Rusty Edmister as a member. He epitomizes the drive and dedication former servicemen or women have to make a difference in their community. We hope that you will contact Rusty Edmister and let him know that you know of a veteran with a story to tell. Rusty will drive most anywhere in the state (and neighboring states, too) to conduct the interview. He will also give the veteran multiple copies of the interview on DVDs (one for the veteran and each of his or her family members), and will ensure a copy is placed in a historical reference library or archive.
The cost? Nothing. Not a penny. Rusty receives his reward in knowing that he made a difference and that he was able to save a little bit of the history of one who served his Country. You can email Rusty by clicking here.