Politics

Boozman Column: Preserving Memories of Time in Military Service

Growing up in a military family, Richard McKinney learned at an early age about service and sacrifice. These lessons inspired him to follow in his father’s footsteps and join the U.S. Air Force after graduating from Greenwood High School.

He trained as an electrician and eventually moved into management with the civil engineering division, but found his true calling when an Office of Special Investigations (OSI) officer said they were looking for new agents. The selection process was rigorous, but it was rewarding.

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Throughout his career as an OSI agent, McKinney was involved with investigations that ranged from narcotics and fraud to counterintelligence. He also served on teams to help maintain security for U.S. military programs. 

Recalling how commanding officers would charge him to search for leaks about information regarding a unit’s operations, McKinney described his special agent duties and career in uniform to my staff as part of the Veterans History Project (VHP), a Library of Congress program preserving the history of our nation’s veterans. This collection of former servicemembers’ accounts ranging from World War I to the present day is the largest oral history archive in the country.

Arkansas has a storied legacy of brave citizens answering the call to serve in our nation’s uniform. It’s fitting their personal reflections will be preserved for future generations, and we’re working to ensure more Arkansas veterans are part of this record.

My staff and I have helped expand the collection. We recently hosted Arkansas veterans at the Van Buren Public Library to record their experiences. Soon, the archive will hold the memories McKinney and others who participated in the event shared as part of this initiative.

I’m proud of the work we’ve done and are continuing to do to encourage more Arkansans to participate by hosting workshops around the state teaching others how to get involved. There is a lot of enthusiasm to honor our veterans by preserving their experiences.

More than 1,200 Arkansans have been trained to participate. Civic organizations, public entities and schools have also joined in this worthwhile endeavor. Arkansas PBS has promoted the program and shared some of the interviews in its archive with the VHP. Arkansans seeking to earn their Eagle Scout badge have arranged interviews and trained volunteers while some schools have incorporated the VHP into their coursework.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette recently reported Little Rock Central High School students are now taking part and have begun scheduling interviews with veterans for submission to the VHP.

It’s exciting to know young people around our state are demonstrating an interest in history and honoring the men and women who served in uniform by recording their memories for the benefit of future generations. The personal reflections help us better understand the sacrifice of all who are called to defend our country.

I encourage more Arkansans to join us in the effort to document and preserve the experiences of family and friends who have been willing to give their all. I’m appreciative of those volunteering their time to recognize veterans in this manner.

The VHP is a valuable resource to learn about the realities of war. It’s worth exploring the archive to hear the personal stories and dedication of Arkansans and all brave American veterans. The accounts are nothing short of inspirational.

In recent years, communities in our state have made this a special time to recognize our veterans by blanketing national and veterans cemeteries with Christmas wreaths. In that same spirit, we can launch a new tradition demonstrating our thanks and gratitude by sharing the experiences of a loved one’s service in uniform.

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