Voices from the past

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Bloody bodies all over the ground could hardly be seen through all the smoke from the explosions while confused young men tried to determine who the enemy was and why they were fighting the same people they were trying to save. Professor William Cobb, a professor of History here at this University is presenting a unique opportunity for students to become involved in an academic research project called “The Vietnam Era Oral History Project.” Cobb’s interest in the Vietnam Era stems from his military background. His father was involved in WWII, the Korean War and even commanded an army of 7,000 men in Vietnam.

Cobb himself became involved with the military after dropping out of college and was drafted. While in the military, his best friend died in a car accident and that incident led him to volunteer for service in Vietnam. However, “it was a result of being drafted and going to Vietnam that led me to want to pursue a career in history,” Cobb said. “ I wanted to find out what was the real reason why the United States became involved in Vietnam and stayed there for so long, spent so much money and spilled so much blood for a small piece of property about the size of New Mexico halfway around the world that didn’t seem to be a threat to United States at all.”

Now, with this project, he is giving students an opportunity to ask the same questions and relive history in a way that is not offered in textbooks or even videos. For his master’s thesis Cobb did an oral history project similar to the one he is doing here now. He was interested in knowing what other veterans’ experiences were, as well as those of anyone who had an association with the Vietnam era. For this project, veterans will be interviewed. As students listen and learn from all of them, they will be able to visualize the experiences and come to their own conclusions about Vietnam.

“There is no other way to understand the past than to listen to people who were there at the time. The best stories you can read about Vietnam are the stories that emerge when you sit down with a veteran, microphone in hand, and ask, ‘Tell me what happened’,” Cobb said.

Cobb is planning to make videos and collect electronic data that will serve not just this University, but other universities as well. The plan is to interview many around the U.S. and Vietnam. Students will be traveling to do these interviews and get credit by either helping with the interviews, transcribing, editing or auditing.

“There’s nothing like the sense of the past coming alive by exposing students to actually doing something more than just sit in a classroom and take notes or an exam,” Cobb said.

There are still opportunities for internships or service hours, depending on how involved students want to get with the project. Anyone who is interested can help, whether a history major or not.

“This university has an extremely bright future ahead of it and a project like this can really help to fulfill that sense of engagement that we see plastered on billboards and the sides of the buses,” Cobb said. “My message to the students is to be part of your education here. Be engaged. Even if it’s not in this project, be part of something; do more of that engagement thing.”

For more information on this project, talk to Professor Cobb in LA 030, email him at William.Cobb@UVU.edu or go to www.UVU.edu/library/archives/vietnam.html

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