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preserves the memories of veterans through recorded interviews, archival preservation efforts and partnerships with non-profits including the Broomfield Veterans Memorial Museum, & Regis University Center For The Study Of War Experience.

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Preserving Memories – DIY:

The How To Guide For Veterans, Their Families and Friends 

Text - Pictures - Audio - Video - Website - Share

More and more veterans are making the effort to recount their experiences before it’s too late.  For some, they haven’t thought about these experiences for years, or even decades.  Sometimes a reunion with old service buddies brings up things they forgot.  Sometimes children, grandchildren or friends ask the simple question “what did you do in the war”?  Whatever the motivation, it’s important to do a few simple things before it’s too late.  It can even become a way to incorporate the whole family into the project.

The Center For The Study Of War Experience was started to help facilitate these efforts.  We’d love for you to submit your experiences to us in whatever form you have them to our digital or physical archives.  Even if you decide not to share them with us they are valuable resources for your family. 

Write It Down!
One things almost anyone can do is write down the stories and experiences they’ve had.  Don’t worry about not being a professional writer or whether you think the stories are fit for the history books.  Put them on paper. 

Many veterans think that “what I did wasn’t really that important” or their stories aren’t interesting or exciting enough to others.  That’s not true.  Putting the story into your own words adds another dimension to events people think they already know.  It lets people know in your own words what you felt during combat, the funny or poignant moments that would otherwise never be revealed and the depth of friendships you made during that period of your life.

Take a look at the letters, memorabilia, souvenirs and pictures you kept from your service, and see what kind of memories they trigger. Go into as much detail as you can.  The dates and places of history aren’t what’s really important here, it’s the details of what happened to you as you experienced them. 

Write down whatever comes to your mind.  Write it down longhand if you prefer and have a family member put them into the computer later.  Write them down while they’re still fresh in your mind.  You’d be surprised what can come back through the years just by looking at something you haven’t seen in years. 

The stories you write will be the legacy you leave your family about your war experiences.  They can be passed down through generations.  The digital age means they can last longer than faded old papers or pictures.  They can make sure that people decades or even centuries from now can understand how important your contribution to history truly was.

If You’re Really Serious About This…

Some veterans who started to document their experiences have gotten caught up in their work and decided to go all out and self-publish their own book.  A great example of this is Hal Leith’s Rescued! POWs of Japanese, which he wrote at the behest of some of the Prisoners Of War he saved in Manchuria at the end of World War II.

Self-publishing can range from running off a few copies of a word processing file with a soft cover and basic binding at the local copy shop to runs of hundreds or even thousands of copies for distribution.  Many cities have printing companies and organizations that cater to self-publishing authors and help them through the process and pitfalls of getting a book ready for print.  You won’t make the New York Times bestseller list, but it can be a fulfilling, enjoyable experience for the author.

Remember, the book business is a tough one.  The last thing you want is to spend money printing hundreds or thousands of copies of a book you can’t sell.  You’ll have to work hard to sell even a few hundred copies of a book.  Finding a distributor, getting publicity, selling directly at unit reunions or conventions and creating a website capable of selling a book directly to consumers all takes time, effort and most of all money. 

However, if you have a book you want to sell, many independent bookstores are willing to accept a few copies from local authors and has a program that allows self-publishing authors to sell titles through their e-commerce system if they’re willing to accept less than half of the gross receipts. 

Thinking Visually - Preserving Your Photos

Scan It, Save It

Many veterans have pictures and other visual items that they’ve saved over the years.  Unfortunately, pictures and paper degrade over time, especially if they haven’t been kept under ideal conditions.  The computer age makes it possible to keep your visual records from degrading further. If you are experienced on the computer, this can be easy.  If you don’t have your own computer, get a child or grandchild who does to help you. 

Decent consumer scanners can be bought at nearly any electronics, discount or online store for less than $100.  If you have negatives or slides, you will want a scanner with a transparency adapter which are slightly more expensive but have backlighting that lets you make higher quality scans and preserves more of the original image quality.

Take some time to learn how to use your scanning software to get the highest quality scans. Many scanners do well at default settings, but if you want to improve on that quality, be sure to save your original scan, and make the adjustments on a copy of the original scan. That will help you if you mess up and want to start over.

A good idea is to scan your photos at 300dpi (dots per inch) or higher). This will create a large file on your computer but will help preserve the quality when you want to print the photo later. If a photo is very small, consider scanning at even higher a resolution to get a better print. A 300dpi scan won't transfer quickly over the Internet though, so you will want to convert it through your image software to a lower resolution (usually a72 or 96dpi JPEG file) to cut down on download times if you post them on the web.

Don't just think about scanning photos. Letters, commendations, discharge papers and other text-based material can be scanned too. Paper is an ever more fragile substance over the course of time. Making digital copies can preserve these documents if they become lost, damaged or destroyed.

Image editing software software also allows you to not just scan photos and documents, but also fix faded or scratched images (make sure to save your original, unaltered shots first). Your software may also allow you to organize your images and create galleries that can be uploaded to the Internet, saved to a CD that can be copied for other family members or sent to an online service for high-quality printing into a photo-album.

Save a Copy Right Away

Once you’ve scanned and edited the photos, save them right away. It's a good idea to back them up on a CD-ROM or DVD immediately. Give one to another family member or keep it somewhere other than your home in case your computer crashes, your hard drive fails, or your home is damaged in a fire or flood. CDs are convenient for distributing your images to others and properly formatted, many DVD players will also play them in a slideshow format.

Large Items – Break Out The Camera

Consumer level scanners are wonderful for scanning individual photos or documents up to 8.5” x 11”, but they aren’t built for larger items like newspapers, posters and especially 3 dimensional items like medals, ribbons, uniforms or other souvenirs.  This is where your old camera still works best.

Whether or not you have a film or digital camera, you can take pictures of these larger items and then use your scanning or image manipulation skills just like your original photos. 

Like all other photographic situations, remember the basics.  Take your photos in a well-lit area and use a light meter if you have one to ensure proper exposure.  A photo that’s shot too dark or too light can’t be fixed.  Pay attention to the composition of your image.  Shoot close enough to get all necessary detail, far enough back to see all that you are trying to shoot.  If you have to use a flash, watch out for reflections off shiny surfaces.  Shoot it right the first time and you won’t need to fix it later.

If you have a film camera, once those photos are processed, they can be scanned just like your original photos.  Some processing labs now offer you the option to have prints or slides made and another digital copy burned to a CD-ROM disc you can use in your computer. 

Most people are now embracing digital photography because of their ease of use with their computers. Some manufacturers don't even make many or any film cameras anymore. 3-6 megapixel cameras are now comparable with film cameras of the same price.

The advantage to digital cameras is that you can get feedback on your shot nearly as fast as you take it on the camera’s own display.  The images can quickly be downloaded to a computer and botched shots are easily deleted. 

The decision to use digital or film to shoot your photos is one of personal preference and convenience. 

Raise Your Voice! - Audio Recording

If writing isn't your thing consider making an audio recording. Many people are more comfortable recounting their experiences if they talk in a conversational tone. This can be done a number of ways, but it's good to remember a few basics before you begin.

Voice recording can be done with everything from inexpensive handheld voice recorders to expensive pro-level equipment and even some computers. If your recorder allows you to plug in an external microphone, do it, just about any external mic will be better than the one built into the unit. Some mics can be clipped to your clothes, placed on a table or used handheld...just try not to handle or rub the microphone much while you're talking, the extra noise will be unpleasant at best. Whichever mic you use, make sure it is pointed toward your mouth and is close to your face. This will minimize ambient room noises like heating and cooling systems and minimize tape hiss due to low volume levels.

Before you start recording, do a mic check.  Record a little bit and learn how to adjust the microphone levels.  Recording too low will overemphasize background noise and detract from the spoken word.  Recording at too high a level distorts the audio making it nearly unlistenable.  Neither situation can be fixed effectively.

Interview Technique

Just sitting down by yourself and talking into a recorder isn’t as easy as it sounds.  Because you’re more conscious of what you’re doing, You may forget what you intended to say, become dependent on notes if you have them and not let your personality come through.  It’s actually less intimidating to talk to another person about these experiences. 

Have a family member or a friend ask you a couple of basic questions.  Where were you born, where were you on December 7, 1941 and how you got into the service.  That should get your mind rolling and more will come out as you talk.  Have the microphone positioned so that it's between you and the interviewer but still allows you to talk to them, not just into the microphone. Make it conversational…you’ll get more of the emotion, humor, personality you want in the story that way. 

The person who interviews you has a couple of very important things to remember.  The key to interviewing someone is knowing how to stay quiet!  The interviewer is not the star, the interviewee is.  Don’t interrupt, don’t talk over the interviewee, give them time to start and finish their thoughts, let them pause naturally and don’t interject your own comments.  There is always time later to ask a further question, get into more detail or clarify a point.  It’s usually best if the interviewer doesn’t have their own microphone, they will find it easier to resist interjecting themselves into the discussion.

Editing and Output

For most people, simply recording their stories will be enough, they don’t want to go to the hassle or time of editing the stories.  For some though, editing makes for a more compelling presentation, and it can be done on a home PC.  You can take out pauses, misstatements and enhance sound quality.  You won’t be able to make something recorded on a budget voice recorder sound like an audio CD you find at the record store, but you can create a tighter, more interesting presentation with a little bit of work.

Your computer may even have an audio input jack, usually a small mini-jack that you can from the outputs of your recorder that will get your audio into the computer. If your computer has a CD burner, it may have come with software that has basic audio editing functions.  Even if it doesn’t, that burner will let you save your imported audio files to a CD. You can make as many CDs as you want for your family or friends.  For less than $1 per blank disc, you can save over one hour of audio on a CD that is more durable than your original tape.

If you want to share your audio by posting it to a website or sending it to friends as an e-mail attachment, be aware of something else. The audio files stored on the CD are far too large to transfer efficiently over the Internet, so it's a good idea to use software to convert it to MP3, Windows Media, Quicktime AAC, or some other format. These formats compress your audio into a much smaller file that transfers over the net far more quickly. MP3 is the most universal format and just about any computer can play one. The other formats require their own players which are found on most computers, but not all of them.

Obviously, the better you record the original, the better your MP3 will sound and poorly recorded audio will be nearly unintelligible compressed for the web. A well recorded mp3 at 48 kilobits per second sounds about as good as AM radio.   High fidelity isn’t what counts here, it’s what you say that counts!

If You’re Really Serious About This…

If you're recording stories at a reunion for an audio unit retrospective have more than one subject at a time or just want higher quality sound, there are units that record and mix multiple microphone sources available for $300-500 dollars.  You will need a separate microphone for each subject and an operator who can monitor the input levels as you record.

The ultimate audio experience is recording in a studio.  People and organizations who are serious about creating a lasting audio legacy can use the professional equipment found in a studio for the highest quality.  You can find audio professionals in most cities and many smaller towns now as well.  Some producers have set up fine studios in their own homes that are available for hourly rates.  Rates vary widely by the provider and even city. Hourly recording rates which can range from $50-150 per hour and up.  Additional services like editing, music and sound effects are usually available for additional charges.

Lights, Camera, Action - Video Recording

If audio recording lets you tell your story, video recording lets your viewers see the more of the emotional impact of your story.  A lot of veterans or their families already have a camcorder for family movies.  The interview techniques discussed in the audio recording section also apply to video. Hollywood budgets and production values aren’t necessary for good video storytelling, but with a little bit of knowledge you can create an effective visual record of your service or even your entire life.

Aw, Shoot!

Camcorders have improved greatly in the last few years.  The Digital Video (DV) format has made it easier to record quality movies with compact camcorders costing between $300-1000.  Mini-DV tapes are small, inexpensive and found in all electronics and most discount stores.  These cameras include connections that let you play back your footage directly on your television or record to a VCR.  DV format video is also designed for easier editing on a properly equipped home computer. 

Older analog VHS cameras will also work fine, though their picture quality isn’t as crisp as that of a digital camcorder.  If you've ever seen a copy of a VHS tape made from another VHS tape, you understand that it doesn't hold up well if you try to dub it off for others to see. If you are getting a camcorder or want to replace an old one, there is no reason to get a VHS based camcorder today.  Any price difference is more than offset by DV’s higher quality. 

The Silent Movie Era Is Dead

Have you ever watched your television without the sound?  Not very interesting is it.  There’s a reason why the talkie replaced the silent movie.  Audio is half of the video experience and without it, you won’t have much of a story.  Without it, your audience better be made up entirely of lip readers. 

One of the first things the pros think about when shooting video isn’t the picture, it’s the sound.  While camcorders have microphones built-in that can record sound, the sad thing is that most of them aren’t very good.  If your camera allows you to use an external microphone, use it. If it doesn't (and many don't) position the camera close enough to the interview subject to keep the recording level up.

Record in a quiet space, don’t let people move in and out of the room, rustle papers, have conversations or handle glasses or dishes within earshot.  Even cheap microphones are sensitive enough to pick up noise in all directions including outside noises like traffic.  The quieter the room, the better sound you will get. 

Let There Be Light

Without good light, your camera won’t get a good picture.  Lighting is the most important aspect in recording good video. 

Pick a spot in the room that is well and evenly lit. Don't sit in front of a window and aim the camera at it. The shadows will make it look like you're in a witness protection program that won't let you show your face. If there's a lot of sunlight in your room, keep it behind the camera, but keep shadows from covering your face. If sunlight is too harsh, close the curtains or blinds and use the room's lighting as long as it's reasonably bright. Also, avoid ceiling lights directly over the subject. Set your camera's exposure to make sure the face is well lit, but not too bright. Shooting against a dark background highlights and provides good contrast to a well-lit face.

Getting an additional video light is one of the best accessories you’ll ever get for your camera when shooting interviews.  Look for them at camera or electronics stores.  You’ll probably need an additional light stand to put it on too. 

If you have a video light, use it as your primary light source and set your camera up based on it.  If the light is too harsh and creates heavy shadows, move it farther away or aim the light at a wall or a ceiling and bounce the light back at the subject to soften it.  Never touch a video light after it has been on for awhile, they can get very hot.  Let them cool before handling them.

Start Your Own Website

Whichever way you choose to preserve your experiences, you can always take it one step further, to the Internet. A small website is a great way to share your experiences with old buddies and spur communication about the events you shared. There are too many ways you can do that to cover here but you may already have the tools to do this and if you don't want to try it yourself, try getting a computer-skilled teenager or grandchild to help.

Most Internet access providers provide their users with free web storage space as part of their Internet access accounts. Most offer more than enough space for uploading text and pictures to that space and making it available over the web. They may not have the ability to host audio or video though, you'll need to check with them to see if they can handle those kinds of files.

Major access providers like Earthlink, Yahoo Geocities , AOL and many others also allow their users to use online website building tools to build simple websites using templates. They allow you to choose a design, copy and paste the text you've written and upload pictures to a free or low cost host. Sometimes this can be done directly from your web browser or through a free software download. Check with your provider to see what services and site-building tools they offer. Computer stores also sell software that can build websites ranging from basic and inexpensive, to professional development applications. How much you want take on is your choice.

The Digital Revolution Lets You Share Your Experiences

Computers and the Internet have made it easier than ever to do the things mentioned in this articles. Apple users are lucky to have iMovie bundled on all of their computers which lets users easily capture and manipulate photos, audio and even video and then take those items to the web. PC users have a wider range of software choices that do the same things as iLife, but most are not as integrated into as complete a package or are not automatically included with new computers. Find out what your computer can handle or already includes before buying a bunch of new software you may not need.

Once you learn more about what you're computer is capable of doing, you'd be amazed at how much you can do yourself.

It’s great to share these memories with your family but if you want future generations to have access to your stories, donate your stories, photos, audio or videos to the Center For The Study Of War Experience.  We are creating both physical and online archives that will be available to future students and enthusiasts of military history and our primary goal is to acquire as many collections from Veterans of all eras.  For information on this, please contact:

Center For The Study Of War Experience:
3333 Regis Blvd., B-16
Denver, CO  80221
(303) 964-5192

Some larger unit associations have their own archives or museums at locations across the country.  If your unit has one, please submit your stories, photos, video and audio recordings to them as well, they will be grateful for your contribution which will enhance their mission of preserving accurate and unique unit experiences.