Utah veteran and her child help launch StoryCorps veterans initiative
It's the question no veteran returning from war likes to answer, "Did you kill anyone?"
And yet it was on Griselda Lemus' mind when her mother returned home to Utah from Iraq in 2007.
Griselda, then barely 8, asked the question during an interview recorded for the national StoryCorps project. Now their poignant exchange is helping to launch a new StoryCorps initiative involving post-9/11 veterans.
Griselda's mother and father, Papsy and Omar Lemus, will join other veterans and their families, the founder of StoryCorps, National Public Radio's president, an NPR Weekend Edition host and others to announce the Military Voices Initiative in Washington on Monday morning.
StoryCorps will send buses outfitted with recording studios around the country, including to wounded warrior care centers, to collect more than 700 stories over the next year.
Some will be edited for national broadcast and aired on NPR's Weekend Edition. The entire collection will be archived at the American Folklife Center in the Library of Congress, which has the Veterans History Project.
With war over in Iraq and the United States pulling out of Afghanistan in 2014, "It seemed like the right time to begin to tell these stories," said David Isay, the founder of StoryCorps.
The Military Voices Initiative is the eighth major special effort for the oral history nonprofit, he said. The new project, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Boeing Co., may be extended to three years.
Helping Iraq and Afghanistan veterans tell their stories is especially important, given the fact that only 1 percent of Americans serve in the military, Isay said.
"People who are part of military families feel misunderstood, and those who are not are disinterested or not comfortable asking the questions," Isay said. "Part of what we're doing with StoryCorps is bridging that divide."
The Griselda-Papsy interview is a good example of the power of the project, he said. Questions arise in the formal setting of a recorded interview that otherwise may never be asked.
Such as Griselda's question to her mother:
"Did you shoot anyone or kill anyone while you were in the war?"
Said Isay, "I don't think she would have asked that around the dinner table."
Papsy Lemus agreed.
"That's the one that almost choked me up, that she would be thinking about that," Lemus said Friday.
Now a staff sergeant in the Utah National Guard, Lemus works in logistics for the Joint Forces headquarters. She was with the 141st Military Intelligence Battalion when it deployed from September 2006 to October 2007, a particularly chaotic and deadly time for U.S. troops in Iraq.
In the recorded interview, Griselda, now 13, also asks her mother how it felt to leave her family behind and whether she saw children in Iraq.
But one of the most moving parts of the short interview is when her mother asks questions of her own.
Griselda tells how her father a former Marine and Utah National Guardsman who left the Guard when his wife went to Iraq couldn't always be both dad and mom. Sometimes, she had to be the mom, she says. Her sister Nancy was then 4. Since then, the West Valley City family has added Omar, 1.
Griselda shares how she was most afraid on her mother's birthday. "I thought if you died on your birthday, I would never see you again. It was hard," Griselda tells her mother.
Surprised as she is by Griselda's question about killing, Papsy doesn't show it.
"No, I never shot my rifle while I was in Iraq," she tells her child.
Stories of war
Storycorps' new Military Voices initiative, which includes the interview Griselda Lemus conducted of her mother, Papsy Lemus, in 2007.
The Library of Congress' Veterans History Project
The American West Center at the University of Utah has an on-going project to collect the stories of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
The University of Utah's J. Willard Marriott Library is collecting student veterans' stories this semester as part of its U and You storytelling project. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for information.