Eight years after their son, Christopher, was killed in Afghanistan, Shan and Tammy Gailey decided to share his story in the hopes that, one day, his daughter will have a deeper understanding of his dedication and service to his country.
The Gaileys were interviewed about Christopher on Friday during a Veterans History Day event organized by First District Congressman Kevin Hern as part of the Veterans History Project.
The project works to preserve veterans’ “memories, stories, and history” by recording interviews with veterans and veterans’ families that will become part of the Library of Congress.
Although Shan Gailey is worried it could be “buried in the government archives indefinitely,” he hopes that Christopher’s 11-year-old daughter will appreciate that her father’s story is being preserved.
Oklahoma National Guard Sgt. Christopher Gailey, 26, was a member of the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. He died Nov. 1, 2011, along with 19-year-old Pfc. Sarina Butcher when their vehicle was attacked with an improvised explosive device, according to the Department of Defense.
Tammy Gailey thinks the project is great and was excited to tell her son’s story, especially because she loves to research family history and ancestry.
“I just think it’s wonderful that they’re doing this and putting it out there for people, so they can see who has served and died for our country,” she said.
Hern said the experience was “heartfelt” for the Gaileys.
“What most people don’t realize is that the families of veterans are part of this, as well,” Hern said. “This is not just a single person that’s going to fight a war or be in a conflict; it’s the entire family.”
Hern visited with veterans before their interviews and personally interviewed Arles Cole, a 95-year-old Pearl Harbor survivor who shared his story with the Tulsa World in a 2015 article.
Cole thinks the Veterans History Project is “one of the best approaches” to preserving veterans’ stories he has heard of, he said.
“It’s so, so important that we tell the kids and future generations the importance of keeping America alive,” Cole said.
One veteran, Bill Caldwell, was quick to let Hern know that he was a Democrat, to which the Republican congressman responded, “I’m sorry.”
Hern was sure to thank the 97-year-old World War II veteran for his service as the two laughed and talked on Caldwell’s way out.
“I think that for historical purposes, if they can go back and make some revelations listening to these guys, maybe they can get some insight,” said Dean Day, Caldwell’s son-in-law, who brought him to record his account.
Tammy Hern thinks the project is incredibly important, especially because “there are not very many left” from some conflicts, she said.
The congressman’s wife spent her day visiting with veterans while they waited their turn to record their stories.
“When Kevin was sworn in in D.C., we met a lady at the Library of Congress, and she was telling us about this project,” Tammy Hern said. “Immediately, I knew that this would be something that Tulsa would greatly benefit from.”
Although talking about their experiences might be difficult for some veterans, Tammy Hern thinks that it is important to remember their stories.
“To be able to have that on video and them telling their story, it’s priceless. It really is,” Tammy Hern said.
Hern’s staff was to conduct more of the 16 planned interviews on Saturday. Interviews are available by appointment only, but veterans can reach out to Hern’s office to let them know if they are interested in recording an account, Constituent Services Director Ashley Wells said.
“We’re happy to do this as long as we have veterans that are interested,” Tammy Hern said.
Actor Jason Lee talks about his new photo exhibit that is being shown at the same time as photos from Larry Clark's iconic photo book "Tulsa."