by John

The Genealogy Center holds a wide variety of books. We collect not only with current genealogists in mind, but also with an eye to future researchers who may be interested in records of more recent events of genealogical value. A good example is our collection of military histories. Yes, we have lots of books about the wars of the 19th and early 20th centuries, but we also have a strong collection of Vietnam War histories and memoirs, and even sources for America's most recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The soldiers and veterans of today will become the ancestors of future genealogists.

Military sources can vary in type. For these more recent conflicts, it is obvious that the veteran service records are not available to researchers. So instead, in order to document what little is available about these wars, we look for memoirs, first-hand accounts, unit histories, and even general histories, knowing that they may assist genealogists in the future. We also seek out books about military uniforms, medals, and insignia, since these sources may help researchers when evaluating ancestral photographs or heirlooms. Many such works have been published about World War II.

Recently we obtained a most unusual new book by Trevor Paglen titled, "I Could Tell You But Then You Would Have to Be Destroyed by Me: Emblems from the Pentagon's Black World" (GC 973.001 P148i). As the title would imply, Paglen attempts to bring together in one volume a collection of obscure patches from some of the most classified programs in the military. Many seem to be connected with aviation units that test experimental aircraft for the Pentagon. Paglen includes brief histories of these units based on what he has been able to determine from declassified sources. As to why these units have patches (considering they are so secretive), Paglen speculates that they provide a certain pride and esprit de corps that motivate the members of these units. "Without a doubt, many members of the black world are proud of the secrets they hold, and of the clandestine work they've done in the military or intelligence industries." He adds that he has found patches in unusual places such as on the walls of the watering holes of test pilots and even in private living rooms. Many contain unusual mottoes and symbols that he often cannot explain.

This unusual book is not likely to be of help in tracing your ancestors today, but who knows? A generation from now a descendant who has inherited one of these patches may look to this source as a useful reference. As always, we will continue to collect for genealogists, both today and tomorrow.