As one of two Massachusetts communities involved in the U.S. Library of Congress' Veterans History Project, Medford has jumped into the project by finding residents who will share their military experiences through taped interviews.
Moving up and down a sheet of yellow legal paper filled with names, Tom Convery recalls stories and anecdotes from many of the 80 or so veterans listed.
“Number 19: Jim Barry,” he says. “He was a Pearl Harbor vet who went in as a private and came out as a command master sergeant.”
Convery’s list includes Medford veterans he has interviewed or plans to interview for his role in the U.S. Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project.
Relating more names and facts, Convery seems to know their histories already.
“I knew a lot of them before this list came together,” he says. “I knew their stories.”
The project, which is a part of the library’s American Folklife Center, is an ongoing documentation of the United States’ military conflicts told through personal accounts of those who served. The project was authorized by congressional legislation and signed into law by President Clinton in the fall of 2000.
Taped interviews, diary entries, personal letters and photographs are just some of materials accepted by the project for the crafting of this history.
Convery became attached to the project via recommendation. The Library of Congress got the word out to towns and cities across the country, asking for help getting veterans to relay their stories. The Medford Historical Society, led by President John Lonergan, answered the call and thought Convery would be a good choice to organize the project and moderate the veteran interviews.
Medford is just one of two communities in the state to be involved in the project.
Convery was just 17 when he eagerly joined the Army’s Airborne Infantry in February of 1943. His father had to sign his enlistment papers.
“I wanted to win the war myself,” recalls Convery, who also served in Korea and Vietnam.
While the project examines each American conflict from World War I to the current situations in Afghanistan and Iraq, Convery has focused his list thus far on men and women who began their service with World War II.
“Medford has a great military history,” he says, pointing to the nearly 9,000 vets who are remembered on the city’s World War II Honor Roll on Route 38 as evidence.
Since he began three months ago, Convery has scheduled three or four veterans at a time for half-hour tapings. Most veterans call themselves, but some come forward after being encouraged by family members who are not fully aware of their relative’s service details.
The interviews are conducted at Medford High School, where Jack Dempsey of the school’s Audio/Visual Department tapes the conversations. Convery asks direct questions, such as what branch the veteran was in and where he/she trained and fought, but he also allows the veterans to open up about specific experiences and memories.
Through these interviews, many amazing stories from Medford veterans are revealed.
Resident Fred Solberg was a bombardier in the Air Force who flew missions all around the Mediterranean Sea. In his next to last flight, his 34th mission, Solberg was shot down and became a German POW for two years.
Adolph Alla was a serviceman who earned both the Bronze Star and the Silver Star. While stationed at Iwo Jima in the Pacific front, he saved the life of his colonel.
Another Medford native, Fred Pompeo, was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge. Later, Pompeo was the victim of friendly fire as he was accidentally strafed by his own planes and wounded again.
The DVDs of the interviews are sent to the Library of Congress for the history project. A second copy is given to the veterans and a third to the Medford Historical Society. A fourth copy is given to Medford community television, Channel 15, which airs the interviews multiple times each weekend.
While the interviews of these Greatest Generation veterans are designed to educate future generations, they are also greatly appreciated by those involved. Some have sent thank you notes and letters to Convery.
For Solberg, who admits he had a rough time talking about his experiences immediately following the war, the interview was cathartic.
“I think it’s very, very good,” says Solberg, “It gives the fellas a chance to talk and a chance to get recognition. It doesn’t bother me as much now to talk about it.”
“It is quite an honor to have someone want to know my reaction to the core and to service,” says Alla, who also expresses appreciation for Convery’s handling of the interviews.
Pompeo admires the respect Medford has shown for its veterans, including this project.
“[This project] provides an accurate and reliable source of history, and it was gratifying,” he says. “I enjoyed listening to others and reminiscing.”
As for the moderator, Convery embraces and enjoys his role as well as the significance of the project.
“They interchange stories, and I think they’re appreciative that they are being remembered,” Convery says. “And when I come home, I’m alive and refreshed.”
Convery also likes learning about the Pacific realm of combat and about branches that he feels have been underappreciated, such as the Merchant Marine and the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs).
With a recent Memorial Day article, as well as television airings of the interviews, Convery expects more veterans to come forward and want to relay their experiences because the project has no due date.
— To find out more about the Veterans History Project, visit www.loc.gov/vets/.