Magellan Scholar Luke Aldridge preserves the stories of Vietnam vets through oral history project

Inspired by his experience in Assistant Professor Dr. Sarah King’s Vietnam War course, history major Luke Aldridge is preserving the stories of Vietnam War veterans for future generations. With the help of King and local veterans, Aldridge is producing oral histories that he hopes will make their way to the U.S. Library of Congress.


During the Spring 2023 semester, Aldridge took HIST A493, The Vietnam War, a course that covers topics such as the Vietnam-era draft, chemical weapons such as Agent Orange, and representations of Vietnam veterans in popular culture. Coincidentally, local Vietnam veteran Mike Colatarci was also a student in the class. At times he shared his own experiences from the war with other students.


Aldridge says, “As we were learning, Mr. Colatarci often provided anecdotes about the subject matter. It really grounded what we were learning and put it in perspective.”


As a Magellan Scholar, Aldridge receives funding for an undergraduate research project to build on topics learned in the classroom. Inspired by the material and Colatarci’s stories, he approached King about recording the oral histories of Colatarci and other local Vietnam veterans.


“I wanted to provide an opportunity for veterans to come in and tell their stories, whatever parts of them they want to share. I simply want to hear what they have to say,” Aldridge says. 


Colatarci, a lifelong learner who habitually takes courses at USCA to expand his knowledge of history, says, “I appreciate the effort that Luke is making to go beyond just absorbing an academic subject, and anything I can do to encourage that is well worth it.”


In preparation for the project, Aldridge completed an independent study with King on the history of Vietnam veterans and oral history best practices, studying nearly a dozen historical monographs and drafting 30 interview questions. He met with the Aiken chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America to present his ideas, during which six veterans signed up as potential interviewees. To date, two interviews have been completed, including Colatarci’s. Associate Professor Dr. David Morris of the Communication and Emerging Media Department is recording the interviews and ensuring the audio is of professional quality.


King says, “Luke has been remarkably dedicated to this project, and the work he is doing is so valuable. While historians have written extensively on the Vietnam War, popular memory and popular culture have often misunderstood and misrepresented Vietnam veterans. Allowing them to tell their own stories—and preserving those stories—will allow future historians to continue exploring the experiences and lessons of the Vietnam War.”


Aldridge has presented his work at the S.C. Historical Association Conference, USCA’s Scholar Showcase, and Discover USC, an annual showcase of research and projects representing students throughout the USC system. The interviews will also be submitted to the Veterans History Project of the U.S. Library of Congress. Once approved, they will be available online for public access. Starting this fall, King hopes to expand the project into a multi-year collection of video interviews that will be housed at USCA, with Aldridge piloting the first year of interviews.


For Aldridge, it’s a worthwhile effort that goes beyond his own interests or scholarship. “The purpose of an oral history is not just for the person doing the interviews, but for the preservation,” he says. “Especially now that Vietnam veterans are in their 70s and 80s, it is really important that we preserve their stories for future generations before it’s too late.”


For more information, contact Leigh Thomas -