Project aims to preserve TN Vietnam War veterans history

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – This week we pause to salute our nation’s veterans. We thank them for their service but rarely do we fully understand the sacrifices made on our behalf – especially from those that fought in war. The Tennessee State Library and Archives is working to preserve these heroes’ stories.

State historian Myers Brown carefully opened a box inside the halls of the TSLA, revealing a lens into one of the most misunderstood conflicts in our nation’s past. Brown delicately displayed the contents of the box – a nearly pristine Yashica camera – which survived Vietnam twice, along with the Tennessean that owned it.

“It looks like him on a mountain top in a firing position,” Brown explained as he showed off some of the hundreds of photos in the collection.

The man behind the camera, Christopher Ammons, could never have known the significance of the pictures he took – or hundreds of letters he wrote. Brown, though, knows it is first-person history that needs to be shared and preserved before it is gone. “In the case of Vietnam veterans, you talk to the ones that are still around and you get their perspective and understand what was going on. The thing about Ammons, he wasn’t drafted, he was a volunteer.”

His letters detail the boredom, missing family, and the horror, like a soldier – days from a return to San Francisco – now lifeless as he wrote. It’s jarring as the slides document war coming to life in front of your eyes. An experience shared by thousands of Tennesseans in a land many couldn’t find on a map where they stood. Experiencing this mysterious culture amidst the horrors of war. Sometimes discovering we are more alike than we are different.

It’s one small part of a bigger puzzle Brown said the state is piecing together, “As much research is done on historical topics, you never know what is missing, and someone donates it, and the puzzle is put together a little bit more. You may never be able to weave it together completely but the more pieces we have the better the understanding.”

Sergeant Christopher Duke Ammons of Clarksville passed away last month, but not before passing along his camera. Though he has moved on, his gift allows his war story to remain for generations to come.

The TSLA wants to hear from more Tennessee Vietnam vets with stories to share and items to preserve. They ask you to reach out which you can do so here.

The Yashica camera and many other artifacts are now on display in the main lobby on the east side of Bicentennial Mall State Park, the public is always welcome.

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