In this technology-driven world, Mark McCullough ’11 finds meeting face to face yields rich stories from our nation’s veterans.
By Donna Parker
As America's Greatest Generation dwindles, the window for capturing their invaluable stories from World War II is beginning to close. Enter Mark McCullough, who received a degree in history from Trinity in 2011 and the current head of the Veteran's Heritage Project. He and a team of volunteers have spent untold hours collecting oral histories of those who served their country in all wars-some of them as far back as 70 years ago.
Mark began working on this program as an Arizona high school junior and considers it a great cross-generational project to meet with heroes of previous generations. This summer, project cofounder Barbara Hatch is being honored in Washington D.C. this month with the Mary Smith Lockwood Founders' Medal for Education at the DAR National Defense Night, earning a place among previous honorees including David McCullough.
"These oral histories are so important; some even contrasting some historical points of reference and shining new light on what really happened," explains Mark. "When we approach these soldiers, we encourage them to tell their own stories rather than asking set questions and the memories come pouring out."
"The interviews have lasted up to six hours, leading some veterans to break down because this is the first time they've had the chance to open up about their war experience."
Post interview, Mark's group transcribes the interview using an old-fashioned transcription machine and then writes a summative essay which is forwarded onto the Library of Congress. Also, books of stories are bound and the project then sponsors book signings for these veterans-a gift to those who are finally sharing their war stories.
Mark says one interesting story was that of a WWII American soldier captured by the Germans and thrown into the basement of a large castle occupied by the enemy. He had nothing but canned peaches to eat as he worried about his upcoming encounter with notorious Nazi and SS commander Heinrich Himmler. Many years later, this particular vet returned to the site of his captivity in Belgium and dined upstairs in the same castle on steak and wine, remembering what had happened decades before as he prayed for his life in the building's dingy basement.
Mark, a licensed pilot in his spare time and the son of a pro golfer, says he's learned so much through these interactions with soldiers from all wars including Viet Nam and Desert Storm and remains dedicated to making these touching stories publicly available. He says his mom's influence and support throughout this process has been remarkable and that when he attended Trinity, his eyes were opened even further.
"My advisor, Dr. Ken Loiselle, department of history, taught me long ago that I didn't know everything and there is always so much more to learn about people. I continue to read and analyze, leading me to think critically and bring these stories to life, to be preserved forever in the Library of Congress."
"And, Dr. Aaron Delwiche, department of communication, also taught me to think outside the box, be my own person and follow my aspirations and passion, which is exactly what I'm doing."
While Mark works on his master of arts in teaching, he's already paying it forward through his phenomenal instructional methods as he did recently in a middle school classroom.
"I taught a lesson on World War I as part of my final undergrad practicum at Trinity; I brought in a WWI diary from one of our vets, dimmed the lights and began reading solemnly. It really set the emotional tone for these 6th graders and brought history to life for them."
"When students and vets come together, the past teaches the future."
You may contact Mark at Mark.firstname.lastname@example.org.
After reading this story if you feel strongly about any Trinity alumni who the Alumni Office should profile in future AlumNet issues, please submit your suggestions. We are looking for suggestions in these four categories: 1) recent grads, 2) grads who innovate, 3) grads in business, and 4) grads who serve the world. Feel free to nominate yourself if you fall in these categories.