Return to Naval Historical Center home page. Return to Frequently Asked Questions page.
WASHINGTON DC 20374-5060

Creating a Personal Memoir of Your Naval Service

Related Resource:

How to Write Your Memoir
Examples of Published Memoirs
Personal Memoir Donation Form
Online Oral Histories, Examples

The Naval Historical Center has an active Oral History Program supported by the Naval Historical Foundation. It encourages retired members of the Navy to record their experiences and to contribute them to its growing oral history collection. Limitations in funds and interviewers as well as the far-flung nature of our retired shipmates limit the Center to interviewing only a small fraction of our retirees. There is, however, a method whereby retirees can put their recollections into the historical record as well as create a history for one's family.

This is a unique opportunity to bring one's work and experiences to the attention of historians. More and more of those who write history are interested in what individuals other than the obvious leaders, such as Fleet Commanders, were doing. Since diaries and letters are no longer produced in the volume and format that they once were, memoirs and oral interview transcripts have gained a new importance.

The Oral History Program deposits its oral history transcripts with the Naval Historical Center's Navy Department Library, Operational Archives, and libraries at the Naval Academy, Naval Postgraduate School, and Naval War College, as well as the Library of Congress. At these locations, the transcripts are available to researchers interested in naval history. Eventually, we hope to have the collection available on CD ROM and perhaps on the Internet. We would like to add your memoirs to this collection.

The computer has revolutionized writing and allows someone at home to produce copy that is just as good as a secretary could prepare in years past. It is the perfect tool for the memoir writer and oral historian. The Oral History Program prefers to have transcripts and memoirs on diskettes as well as paper copies so that they can be easily reproduced and loaded into computer files at a future date. Of course not everyone is adept at using a keyboard. For those who still prefer the pen as the weapon of choice, you probably can arrange for some high school student to earn a little college tuition by converting your writing to print as most students this age have access to computers.

For those interested in writing their memoirs or conducting oral interviews to be used by the program, here are a few suggestions.

How to Write Your Memoir


Don't worry about the length. In a memoir, detail is important and helps to give researchers a feel of the times. Also be sure to give equal weight to your early career. As a junior person, you may have been a fly on the wall and saw things from a different perspective.


While memoirs are just what they imply -- the memories of a life and career -- it does not hurt to get a little historical accuracy into them. Details such as dates, ship names, and locations are vital for the historical record. First check your library to see if anyone has written about an event to be discussed. If so, you may want to refer to the work in your memoir and comment on its accuracy. An excellent reference series is called Facts on File. They can give you a pretty good idea of when things happened in most countries and the names of key people. The Naval Historical Center has a homepage on the Internet at It is filled with information that could be helpful. Be sure to examine the "Frequently Asked Questions" and "Wars and Conflicts" sections. You may also have some personal papers that you may want to consult, and to add photocopies of these to your memoir as appendices.


The Oral History Program publishes using single space, 12 point, Times New Roman font, right hand column unjustified. Page numbers are centered at the bottom. Be sure to have a family member or friend proof-read your monograph or transcript. Use the Spell Check feature. Our computer program is Microsoft Word 6.0, but we can convert from most other programs. We take 3.5 inch diskettes. Don't put too many commands in the text for line spacing and the like, it is easier to have a relatively uncluttered text which can be formatted to our specifications.

In addition to the narrative, our oral histories contain an Introduction, Biography, Table of Contents (subjects covered), and a Personal Memoir Donation Form.

An Introduction is optional. If you include one it should be no more than two pages and you may want to have it written by someone else. The objective of the introduction is to inform the reader about "why is this significant or of interest." The introduction may refer to some of the events, places, times, people served with, and things accomplished, as a means to whet the reader's appetite.

The Biography page is a one page narrative providing a life overview from birth through retirement. Be sure to include your full name, and any nicknames, as well as ranks held. In the last paragraph you should list awards received. You may also acknowledge your spouse and children here.

The Table of Contents page should serve as a guide corresponding with your narrative designed to point readers to the portion of your manuscript of their particular research interest.

As previously mentioned, you may want to add some personal papers such as a letter home describing a momentous event as appendices.

The Personal Memoir Donation Form should be printed out and the top portion filled in. A completed copy with the signature of a representative of the Naval Historical Foundation will be returned to you.

Once you have completed your memoir, send it in hardcopy and disk, as well as a completed hard copy of the Personal Memoir Donation Form to:

Naval Historical Foundation
Attn: Oral Historian
1306 Dahlgren Ave. SE
Washington Navy Yard
Washington DC 20374-5055

The Oral Historian will be happy to critique your efforts. The Navy, future historians, and members of your family will be forever grateful for your efforts.

Examples of Published Memoirs

Listed below are some published memoirs. Not all were Fleet Commanders! You may want to read a few of these to see how they approached different issues. Who knows? Perhaps your efforts might be rewarded by publication!

Batcheller, Edgar H. As I Remember. New York: Vantage Press, 1995.

Fahey, James J. Pacific War Diary. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1963.

Huchthausen, Peter A. Echoes of the Mekong. Baltimore MD: Nautical & Aviation Pub. Co. of America, 1996.

Layton, Edwin T. And I was there: Pearl Harbor and MidwayBreaking the Secrets. New York: William Morrow, 1985.

Mason, Theodore C. Battleship Sailor. Annapolis MD: Naval Institute Press, 1982.

Puller, Lewis Jr. Fortunate Son: The Autobiography of Lewis B. Puller, Jr. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1991.

Sheppard, Don. Riverine: A Brown Water Sailor in theDelta, 1967. Novato CA: Presidio Press, 1992.

Zumwalt, Elmo R. Jr. On Watch. New York: Quadrangle Press, 1976.

23 May 2006