RMU Oral History Project Examines Wars In Iraq and Afghanistan

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Pittsburgh, Nov. 3, 2015 – Students and faculty at the Oral History Center at Robert Morris University are interviewing veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to document their combat experiences while still fresh in their minds. 

Some of the students working on the Iraq/Afghanistan Veterans Project are themselves veterans who did tours of duty in those two wars, and they have also committed their own experiences to video as part of the project. Eleven veterans have been interviewed thus far.

“It’s important to us to document our brothers’ and sisters’ experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. A typical oral history project doesn’t have participants from the event it documents actively engaged in the project,” said Joshua Caskey, a senior history major at RMU whose 12 years as a U.S. Marine included two tours of duty in Iraq.

The Oral History Center will formally unveil the Iraq/Afghanistan Veterans Project during an event on Veterans Day, Wednesday, Nov. 11, at 3 p.m. at the School of Education and Social Sciences in the Nicholson Center at RMU’s Moon Township campus. The project has received financial support from the Daughters of the American Revolution.

RMU history professor John McCarthy is overseeing the project, which will become a searchable digital archive that will provide historians, as well as the general public, with a firsthand account of America’s post-9/11 conflicts. “This is hardcore, real history work. Traditionally, history students haven’t gotten these kinds of opportunities as undergraduates,” said McCarthy.

Many of the veterans enrolled at RMU are studying history, and McCarthy said that the combat veterans participating in the project seem to feel more comfortable opening up to fellow veterans.

“It’s a good way to help civilians understand veterans’ experiences in a different light than how the media portrays them,” said Gabe Dachille, an Army veteran who served in the infantry in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Dachille earned a bachelor’s degree in history from RMU and is now working on his master’s degree in instructional leadership. Like Caskey, he is both an interviewer and an interviewee in the project. Not every student who is working on the project is a veteran, however, and Dachille said that’s a good thing. The researchers also want to capture the experiences of those who served in support roles, and many of them feel self-conscious talking to combat veterans.

“Some veterans who weren’t in the infantry are daunted and unfortunately don’t think their service is meaningful,” said Dachille. 

The participating veterans are now given a choice of being interviewed by a veteran or a civilian such as Caleb Smith, a senior history major who is also transcribing the interviews.

“They don’t hold anything back. I wasn’t ready for that. I expected them to be more reserved. I think it’s good for people outside the military to know what it’s like,” said Smith. 

McCarthy noted that oral history projects on previous wars, including World War II, have often been conducted years or even decades later, when memories have faded. Sharing their experiences can be helpful to the veterans, according to Dachille.

“Sometimes saying things out loud helps you cope,” said Dachille.

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