American war veterans and the conflicts they participated in are well represented in the archive at the Library of Florida History in Cocoa.
The Joseph Marshall Papers detail the activities of a Loyalist regiment in St. Augustine during the American Revolution of the 1770s and ‘80s.
The archive houses the East Florida Constitution, created as a result of the United States invasion of Spanish East Florida in 1812, during the Patriot War.
There are dozens of letters and journals from the Seminole Wars of the 1800s, including the journal of Jacob Mott, a U.S. Army Surgeon stationed in Florida.
Numerous Civil War documents from the 1860s include letters from Confederate General Robert E. Lee, and future Florida governor Francis P. Fleming.
The library’s collection of World War I memorabilia includes the Frank Rumfield Photograph Collection with images from Chapman Field in Miami.
Documentation of World War II features newspapers, original War Bonds posters, and the Irv Rubin Collection of wartime correspondence. Rubin and his family were the first Jewish business owners in Cocoa, with two sons and a daughter serving America during the war.
The archive safeguards stories of Korean War veteran, Medal of Honor recipient, and Cocoa resident Emory Bennett.
The archive is trying to expand one particular collection of veteran and war related materials.
“We have very little, actually, that deals with the Vietnam War period,” says Ben DiBiase, Director of Educational Resources for the Florida Historical Society and archivist at the Library of Florida History.
“We’re looking for any kind of documentation from someone who served in the armed forces during the Vietnam War era, or anyone who may have lived in Florida during that period, to help chronicle or help us to understand what that period was like in Florida history,” says DiBiase.
The effort to establish a Vietnam War Era Archive at the Library of Florida History was initiated by Florida Historical Society volunteer Bill Arbogast of Cocoa. Arbogast spent 24 years on active duty in the U.S. Army and served two tours of duty in Vietnam.
“We established the archive in 2013, which was the 50th anniversary of the onset of what we now know as the Vietnam War era,” says Arbogast. “1963 is what’s officially recognized by the Veterans Administration as the start of that era.”
Arbogast saw a significant amount of material from World War II being donated to the archive by veterans of that conflict, and thought that the time had come for Vietnam War era veterans to be encouraged do the same.
“We’ve got a lot of Vietnam veterans who are reaching the age where they would want their memorabilia, their documentary evidence to be archived in such a way that it would be available to future researchers,” says Arbogast.
The Library of Florida History is not equipped to house artifacts such as flags, insignia, or other display items. What is needed are documentary materials such as records of military service, photographs, and letters that soldiers exchanged with their families.
While documenting the experiences of Vietnam veterans is essential to the archive, it is hoped that a complete picture of the time period will be created.
“We’re looking for anyone who was impacted by the Vietnam War in one way or another,” says Arbogast. “We’re also interested in those people who looked at the war as a negative experience and participated in demonstrations against the war. Those things are important, I think, to recognize the controversy that war created among the people of this nation.”
Arbogast and DiBiase have created a simple process for veterans and others to submit material to the Vietnam War Era archive. A basic submission form is online at myfloridahistory.org/vietnamarchive.
“Even copies of original documents would be acceptable for this particular collection,” says DiBiase. “It’s really the information that we’re hoping to capture.”
Arbogast is hopeful that people will respond to the call for submissions to the archive.
“It will let us put the war in the emotional context that it created in this country. The opposition to it, the fervor of patriotism that was associated with it, the tumultuous experience that individuals had, separated from their families, separated from their loved ones.”
Dr. Ben Brotemarkle is executive director of the Florida Historical Society and host of the radio program “Florida Frontiers,” broadcast locally on 90.7 WMFE Thursday evenings at 6:30 and Sunday afternoons at 4:00, and on 89.5 WFIT Sunday mornings at 7:00. The show can be heard online at myfloridahistory.org.