Oral History

When many people think about history, they picture dusty books and fading documents housed in formal and imposing institutions. But, in fact, history is all around us, in the living memories of our own families and people we work with. When it comes down to it a great deal of what we know of past generations and people’s daily activities cannot be uncovered merely from reading books or official reports. Rather, it can only be revealed to us through stories, interviews, and spoken dialogue, or what is known as oral history. Oral history is a method of gathering and preserving historical information through recorded interviews with participants in past events and past ways of life. It is both the oldest type of historical inquiry and one of the most modern, initiated with tape recorders in the 1940’s.

And, if you stop and think about it, oral history has long been an integral part of the Navy. The verbal lessons a new sailor receives from his Sea Daddy and, yes, even the many sea stories he will hear along the way have long been an essential means of preserving the experience of past actions, battles, and events, and of imparting the experience to young sailors. Oral history, be it formal or informal, offers a chance to pass on the lessons of Navy life.

Every sailor has a story or two to tell about their experience, which is unique to them. Even members of the notoriously “Silent” U.S. Submarine Service have something to offer the oral historian in the form of insights into the culture of the Submarine Force and the spirit and perspective of the time in which they served.

The Oral History collection at the Submarine Force Museum contains an assortment of audio and video interviews including:

  • USS SQUALUS survivors
  • Members of the prize crew of U-505, captured at sea during WWII
  • Dr. Fred Spiess — Scripps Oceanographer and creator of the “Spiess” Ranging Technique
  • NAUTILUS Captain William Anderson interviewed by none other than Bing Crosby
  • Interviews with WWII submarine veterans, medal of honor recipients, explorers and so much more.

Recently the Submarine Force Museum joined the Library of Congress as a partner in their popular “Veteran’s History Project.” This project, underway since 2000, has the goal of “creating a lasting legacy of recorded interviews and other documents chronicling veterans’ and other citizens’ wartime experiences and how those experiences affected their lives and America itself.

As a partner in this project copies of any oral histories collected by the Submarine Force Museum will be sent to the Library of Congress where they will be added to the national collection of personal histories on audio and video media as well as letters, diaries, maps, photographs and home movies.

The Submarine Museum invites you to share you story.

Visit the Veteran’s History Project web site at www.loc.gov/folklife/ to learn more about this exciting project, then contact us to arrange your contribution to this lasting history.