WHAT'S THE STORY: Mid-Continent Public Library and KCPT public television are combining to honor veterans, especially from the Vietnam War, at the annual Veterans Salute Sept. 16 at the Midwest Genealogy Center in Independence and the Vietnam Voices Storybooth Sept. 11-20 at the MCPL's North Independence Branch.
WHY IT MATTERS: All local veterans are invited to share in the Veterans Salute program and be recognized for their service to the country. They also are invited to share their experiences of the Vietnam War in the Vietnam Voices Storybooth.
For Dylan Little and Stephen Chalmers, this month turned out to be a perfect storm for their Veterans Salute.
The co-chairs of the Mid-Continent Public Library's annual event – as well as the many veterans on the committee who help put it together – saw next week's program as the right time to honor Vietnam War veterans.
When they learned that the release of the Ken Burns and Lynn Novick PBS documentary "The Vietnam War" would coincide with the annual celebration of the metro area's veterans and that the fall 2017 book selection for the NEA Big Read program was Vietnam veteran Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried," it was an easy decision.
"What we've got here is a confluence of different, almost independent tracks, coming together to make a great thing," said Little, who works in the MCPL's Community Programming Department. "... It created opportunities for giving a chance to extend the tale on one of the largest stories and most pivotal stories in our American history."
The Veterans Salute, while it honors all veterans, will have a special Vietnam emphasis for the event, which will be held Sept. 16 at Midwest Genealogy Center in Independence, a day before the release of the Burns series on KCPT.
"We just thought it was an opportunity that made sense," said Chalmers, who also runs the MCPL's Excelsior Springs branch and has been involved in the Veterans Salute for the last nine years.
The Veterans Salute, which runs 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., will feature Dr. James Willbanks as the keynote speaker. Willbanks, the General of the Army George C. Marshall Chair of Military History at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, also served as a military consultant for Burns on the documentary.
"He's going talk about his involvement in that project, why it was important for that movie to be made and why it's important to continue to study the Vietnam War as a society," Chalmers said of Willbanks.
The free family-style event will also feature a special veterans recognition ceremony, a display of military collectors, genealogy classes (with a special emphasis on how to search military records), several fun activities for children, a military vehicle display, a sneak peek of the Burns documentary and short films done by teens on Vietnam veterans for KCPT. Also, veterans will be able to visit with officials about their benefits.
"It's great to having one day or one weekend a year where we kind of press pause on all of the different things that are going on to say, 'Hey, we appreciate you, we appreciate your service, we want to commemorate and recognize everything you've done and the impact of what you've done for us,' " Little said.
Chalmers said they are expecting a record crowd for this year's Veterans Salute.
"If that's the biggest problem we have, then that's a good problem to have. I'll deal with that much sooner than having nobody show up," Chalmers said with a laugh.
Chalmers, a U.S. Navy reservist veteran himself during Desert Storm, said he's happy that the Vietnam veterans are getting recognized more now after many of the surviving ones had a less than happy return.
"I think that's been a trend that's going on for a while," Chalmers said of the public beginning to look more favorably at Vietnam veterans. "I think things have changed a lot since the 1970s or the '80s. When I was growing up in the '70s and '80s the way people looked at Vietnam Veterans and the Vietnam War was a lot different than they do now. But we're really doing this to honor all veterans."
While that event is next Saturday, MCPL will get things started Monday when the Vietnam Voices Storybooth comes to the library's North Independence Branch. In conjunction with KCPT, the MCPL will give local Vietnam vets and family members a chance to share stories of their experiences in the war. The Storybooth will be available there from Sept. 11-20.
"The Storybooth, thanks to our friends at KCPT, it gives us a chance to broaden the conversation even more and to really capture and archive those stories," Little said. "One of the things I feel our library system does a good job at ... is getting people to tell their stories to pass those down, the experiences that happen from one generation to another.
"It's not just the veterans themselves who are telling their stories, we're also getting folks who had a family member who might have been lost in the fight or a loved one came back and were changed in one way or another," he added. "So really when you're talking about the opportunity for veterans to come and tell those stories, it's really a look into the mirror of how the nation reacted to and reflected to a series of events that impact society to this day."
The storybooth has already been at the Antioch branch in Gladstone, and Lindsey Foat of KCPT said they already received about 30 accounts from veterans, which can be viewed online at https://veterans.kcpt.org/stories/kc-vietnam-voices/.
Little is happy that the library and KCPT can give these veterans a voice.
"If we've got one person and we provide an outlet or opportunity for them to share their experience that either hadn't previously shared from an archival standpoint, it's a success, bottom line. Making people comfortable enough where they can share a dialogue about something like that, there's no greater mission than letting people feel like they're home. And part of that is ... making the library a place where people can tell their story."
Veterans Salute 2017
When: 9 a.m.-3 p.m, Saturday, Sept. 16
Where: Midwest Genealogy Center, Independence (3440 S. Lee's Summit Road)
• 9 a.m. – Opening ceremony and keynote speech by Dr. James Willbanks (Fort Leavenworth Chair of Military History and military consultant on the Ken Burns and Lynn Novick documentary series "The Vietnam War."
• 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. – Balloon artist, face painting, visits by mascots KC Wolf of the Chiefs, Sluggerrr of the Royals and Mac of the Kansas City Mavericks; food trucks; military collectors with hundreds of historic artifacts on display; military vehicles display; genealogy classes; sneak peek clips from the Burns series and films by students about Vietnam veterans for KCPT.
• 1:30 p.m. – Special veterans recognition ceremony; more food trucks fare.