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State veterans project has local ties

Nov. 11, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Glenville State College has embarked on the West Virginia Veterans' Legacy Project, led in part by its president, Peter Barr.

Barr is a Huntington native and two-time graduate of Marshall University who also served three years in the Army from 1969 to 1972. He said the West Virginia Veterans Legacy Project, which debuted this past week with various events at Glenville State, allows the stories of veterans from yesteryear and those returning from current wars to live on.

The project was established to collect oral histories to preserve and protect the recollections, memories and stories of West Virginia's men and women who have served in the U.S. military.

"One of the things I think is so important is to preserve (the history) from the veteran's perspective," Barr said. "It provides honor and an opportunity to tell their stories."

Barr's service in the Army didn't include any deployments, but he said he had classmates from Huntington High School and those he trained with in the military that did go to Vietnam. A few never came home, and some who did come home had both physical and emotional wounds, Barr said, recalling one friend who became a drug addict and died about 15 years later. Another was blinded in combat and adjusted to life, even learning to play golf without sight.

Those are some of the stories, pleasant and tragic, that are part of the project, which includes more than 200 interviews with veterans and families or friends of those who have passed on or were killed in conflict.

The stories they tell and the memories they reveal are creating a living picture of the brutality, confusion and sacrifices of war, said Bob Baber, Glenville State College's major gifts officer and director of the West Virginia Veterans Legacy Project.

"In many cases, this is the last chance to capture the history of our older veterans," Baber said. "It has been rewarding to hear the stories of service that have impacted so many lives in our state and nation."

Baber said the project started about two years ago but stalled last year with about 80 interviews after the initial $350,000 grant money dried up. He said Barr stepped in and added $60,000 to the project and gave him the freedom to take the project to new heights.

"My vision was to create products, lobby pieces, photos," Baber said, adding that a play and documentary also are part of the project. "None of that would have happened had (Barr) not stepped up to the plate and added institutional money."

The documentary, "A Tradition of Service," debuted last week but will air on West Virginia Public Broadcasting at 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 11. Baber said Hershel "Woody" Williams, West Virginia's last surviving Medal of Honor recipient and a resident of Ona, is prominently featured in the documentary.

Baber and Barr said the photography show, documentary screenings and book presentations were designed to travel the state. And Huntington is in their sights.

For more information, visit www.glenville.edu/veterans.