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St. Louis veterans speak up about war experiences; exhibit to open at Soldiers Memorial this fall

Julia Lacher, Clayvon Wesley and Patrick Allie joined host Don Marsh to talk about an oral history project collecting veterans' voices.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Oral storytelling is an age-old tradition that the Missouri Historical Society is making the most of when it comes to sharing veterans’ personal experiences. While construction is finishing up downtown at Soldiers Memorial Military Museum, an oral-history project is currently underway that will soon highlight the detailed accounts of 30 veterans from the St. Louis area.

Two members of the Missouri Historical Society, Julia Lacher, an oral historian, and Patrick Allie, the military and arms curator, joined host Don Marsh on Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air to talk about the project along with a Vietnam-era U.S. Air Force veteran who contributed his own story, Sgt. Clayvon Wesley.

“The goal of the Soldiers Memorial Oral History Project is to document the history of St. Louisans’ experience and participation in major U.S. conflicts both abroad and on the homefront, and we’re doing that through documenting the recorded memories of the men and women who served,” Lacher said.

Opening Nov. 3, the exhibit will date all the way back to the American Revolutionary War using letters and diaries to share the details of those pre-WWI eras. However, the oral-history project focuses on capturing the experiences of veterans still alive from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War and conflict in the Middle East.


“We really wanted to rely on the veterans’ voices to tell those stories,” Allie said. “So we’ll be using these oral histories in [the] gallery to really provide insight into what those conflicts meant to the veterans that served in them.”

For Wesley, who served as a medic, sharing his memories conjured up some intense emotions, but he said the experience overall was therapeutic.

“It’s really humbling for someone like me to actually get to tell this story, and I think, as I said in my story, the thing is to tell the story for all of those other veterans who are not going to get a chance to tell their story,” Wesley said.

Wesley added that the project is bringing together veterans who are connected by shared experiences, despite serving in a variety of places at different times in history.

“There’s a certain amount of [camaraderie] that’s going on,” he said. “This project is doing something in the community that I don’t think anybody is really taking notice [of].”

The project will continue fundraising to keep collecting stories after the museum opens this fall.

Those interested in supporting the project can email join@mohistory.org or visit http://mohistory.org/support/donate.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex HeuerEvie HemphillLara Hamdan and Caitlin Lally give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Caitlin Lally is thrilled to join St. Louis Public Radio as the summer production intern for "St. Louis on the Air." With a bachelor's degree in journalism from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Caitlin also freelances for area publications like Sauce Magazine and the Belleville News-Democrat. In her career, she's covered topics such as Trump's travel ban, political protests and community activism. When she's not producing audio segments or transcribing interviews, Caitlin enjoys practicing yoga, seeing live music, and cooking plant-based meals.