Gary D. Jestes easily can fill the pages of his book on Carroll County Vietnam veterans with documents. After years of research, he has news articles, photographs, even letters. What he wants is memories.
Recollections of Vietnam may be painful, but will offer readers an insight from the local perspective, he said. Personal memories, selected from accounts of county veterans, will form the backbone of the as yet untitled book.
After time-consuming searches through military archives and files at the Historical Society of Carroll County, Mr. Jestes, 45, has compiled hundreds of documents, but the experiences of those who fought in the war have eluded him.
Perhaps a reluctance to recall the strife that marked the war lingers 20 years later, he said.
"Personal accounts would be the strongest chapter in the book," he said. "I would like to include the actual experiences, but many veterans don't want to remember."
Mr. Jestes, a Vietnam veteran himself, went into the Army right out of South Carroll High School. He was a chaplain's assistant in Vietnam in 1968 and 1969.
With help from the historical society staff, he has found about 1,000 Vietnam veterans with local connections.
"The participants are the best witnesses to history," said Jay Graybeal, director of the society. "We really can't understand because we weren't there."
Mr. Jestes has interviewed several veterans, but many have expressed a reluctance to go on the record, he said.
"I have been pestering everybody for I don't know how long," he said. "The only way the public will ever know what really went on in the war is from the people who served there."
To complete his research, Mr. Jestes wants accounts from men and women who served in all branches of the armed forces. The book, which the society has agreed to publish, also will contain biographies and illustrations of deceased veterans and interviews with their families.
Mr. Graybeal said he sees the book as "a real public service and a community resource."
"Gary has been a strong supporter to the written record of the conflict as it pertains to Carroll countians," he said. "He has the experience and the emotion that drives the project. For him, it's been a labor of love."
Mr. Jestes said he does not plan to write on the politics of the war, although he may touch on the anti-war sentiment at the time of his enlistment.
"I will let readers see news columns and letters home," he said. "Then, let them draw their own conclusions."
He wants the book to become a permanent resource for schools and young people.
"My dream is to have kids read about those experiences from a local viewpoint," he said.
He promises confidentiality to local veterans and asks them to call him at his Manchester home.
"The door is still open," Mr. Jestes said. "If not for a personal account, then just to talk. Any comment is welcome. I'll be happy to hear."
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