Since 2014 Dr. Cyndi Briggs has helped veterans record their stories for future generations. The daughter and granddaughter of Army veterans, Cyndi became interested in the effects of war after discovering her deceased grandfather’s World War II photos and memorabilia. The photos revealed a secret chapter in her grandfather’s life, as he never talked about his combat experiences. Curiosity and a desire to understand his experiences led her to interview a World War II veteran. Since then, she has conducted more than 90 oral history interviews, primarily with World War II veterans from the US, Canada, and France, as well as veterans from the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and with civilians who experienced World War II in the US and England.
The interviews are archived in the New Winston Museum in Winston-Salem, NC, and are currently being added to the University of Kentucky Library Oral History Metadata Synchronizer (OHMS), where they will be searchable in the Library of Congress.
“On November 18, 2017, we presented a staged reading of 10 veterans’ stories,” explained Cyndi. “’I Was There: A Staged Reading of Veterans’ Stories’ project was created in collaboration with Dr. Brook Davis (Department of Theatre and Dance, Wake Forest University) and Dr. Cheyenne Carter (Counselor Education, Wake Forest University). Professional actors from the community collaborated with veterans from WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War to create short vignettes presented to a live audience.
Cyndi has presented her research, both in the community and at professional conferences, including the North Carolina Counseling Association, the Southern Association for Counselor Educators and Supervisors, the Association for Creativity in Counseling, and the American Counseling Association. The title of the project, “Soldiers’ Heart” refers to the earliest known name for what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). After the American Civil War, medical professionals, family and loved ones of returning soldiers struggled to define what had changed in the veterans who experienced significant trauma. Anxiety, rapid heartbeat, and difficulty breathing all served as symptoms.
“Quite poetically,” said Cyndi, “nostalgia for home was also a symptom: a longing for a return to the past. In my oral history research I’ve interviewed several World War II veterans who still carry significant PTSD symptoms, some seven decades after the war. And nearly all the veterans demonstrate nostalgia for the life they had before the war, but also for the friendships and relationships they developed during it. A recurring theme in these interviews is, ‘I am so glad it happened. And I’d never do it again.’ In relationship to this theme, I have begun training counselors and hospice workers to address the specific needs of combat veterans at the end of life.” The next staged reading, a residency-type format, will be performed in Fayetteville, NC and Winston-Salem this fall.
Cyndi has her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Guilford College, her master’s in counseling from Wake Forest University, and her doctorate in counseling from Oregon State University. In support of this project, Cyndi completed her Certificate in Documentary Arts from the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University in 2017. She is employed as a core faculty member in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at Walden University.
Do you know a local veteran who would like to share their story? Contact Dr. Briggs at email@example.com.
Camel City Creates is a monthly column of Forsyth Woman Magazine featuring talented creative women in our community.