(U.S. Coast Guard/Chief Photographer's Mate Robert F. Sargent)

Editor's note: This article originally appeared on The Conversation.

I can still recall the exhilaration I felt in the reading room of the National Archives in College Park, Maryland.

It was mid-April 2009. I was scrolling through roll after microfilm roll of the War Department's “ Opinion Surveys Relating to the Morale of U.S. Army Personnel."

What I had discovered were tens of thousands of statements written by World War II American soldiers about their military experiences. Not only were they uncensored, but they were also composed during the conflict – not afterward, from re-created memories.

A postdoctoral fellow at the time in modern U.S. history, I felt confident that no other collection of WWII records compared to what had been saved on these unreproduced 44 microfilm rolls. Neither had I ever seen these documents used in any history of WWII.

I had just discovered a historian's gold mine.

If only the public had access to these, I thought to myself.

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