October 24, 2003
Library of Congress' American Folklife Center Preserves America's Wartime History in the Voices of Those Who Lived It
New Initiatives Announced on 50th Anniversary of Veterans Day
On the occasion of this year's 50th anniversary of the first observance of Veterans Day, the Veterans History Project (VHP) of the Library of Congress announces a series of special initiatives to expand the reach of the project and to renew the call for all Americans to honor our veterans by joining with the VHP to preserve the nation's wartime stories.
Formerly called Armistice Day, Nov. 11 was set aside in 1938 to mark the end of World War I on Nov. 11. The first observance of Veterans Day took place in 1953 in Emporia, Kan., and the following year President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law a bill that permanently changed the name of the commemoration to Veterans Day in order to honor all American veterans.
The new initiatives of the Veterans History Project are the following:
- Special Public Radio Event: The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress will present a one-hour Public Radio International (PRI) special titled "Coming Home," the first part of its series "Experiencing War," which will recount America's stories of sacrifice, triumph, great expectations and crushing disappointments. The program, drawn from the oral histories gathered by the VHP, will be aired in early November. Max Cleland, American war hero and former U.S. senator, hosts the program.
- New Web Features: The project has fully digitized 24 stories from the VHP archives and mounted them on the Library of Congress Web site. These personal narratives by veterans of different wars bring the project to life for all Americans. Their stories will be followed on the Web site by many more culled from the VHP archives. The interviews, letters, photographs and memoirs can be viewed online at www.loc.gov/warstories/.
- New Story Gathering Kits: In response to overwhelming interest in the project, VHP has prepared two new easy-to-use kits for participants who want to record their stories. A Memoir Kit provides guidance to veterans and civilian supporters who wish to document their own personal stories in writing. A new Field Kit equips third-party interviewers with forms and basic techniques necessary for successful interviews. The Field Kit will be distributed throughout the VHP volunteer network, including classrooms and youth partner organizations. VHP has also produced a large-print version and an audio version for the visually impaired.
In less than three years, the Library of Congress' American Folklife Center, with support from the U.S. Congress and AARP, has collected more than 10,000 wartime oral history submissions through the Veterans History Project. These will become a permanent part of the National Veterans History Collection in the center.
"We are proud to have collected so many stories in three years. But with more than 1,700 of America's war veterans dying each day, our window of opportunity to preserve their stories for future generations is closing quickly," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. "Every veteran has his or her own war, and each is custodian of a unique story and memories. This project will tell the American story through thousands of different voices, thousands of different pictures and thousands of different memories."
Of the 10,000 submissions to the VHP, no two are alike. Some veterans share their stories with friends and family through carefully crafted memoirs; others give interviews to nieces and nephews, grandchildren and students, who have no personal remembrances of those times and events. Still others dust off their attic trunks and revisit their own war years (or those of deceased family members) through personal correspondence and photographs.
AARP, the nation's leading organization for people ages 50 and over, is the project's founding private-sector sponsor. Together with 800 other VHP partner organizations, AARP is working with its members and a vast national network of more than 150,000 volunteers to collect stories from everyday Americans whose heroic deeds and wartime efforts helped to preserve freedom. "We are actively encouraging our 35 million members to tell their own stories and reach out to veterans whose stories have yet to be archived," said AARP President Jim Parkel.
Authorized by legislation passed in 2000, the Veterans History Project, a program of the Library of Congress' American Folklife Center, collects first-person narratives from veterans and civilians who served America during wartime. The project preserves written and oral histories, along with other documentary materials, from veterans of World War I, World War II and the Korean, Vietnam and Persian Gulf Wars, as well as stories from civilians who served on the homefront.
The Library of Congress is the world's largest library and the national library of the United States. The Library was founded in 1800, making it the oldest federal cultural institution in the nation. The mission of the Library of Congress is to make its vast holdings available and useful to Congress and the American people and to sustain and preserve a universal collection of knowledge and human creativity for future generations. The Library started the Veterans History Project in 2000 in response to Public Law 106-380, sponsored in Congress by Rep. Ron Kind, Rep. Amo Houghton, Rep. Steny Hoyer, Sen. Max Cleland and Sen. Chuck Hagel.
The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress was created in 1976 to document, preserve and present all aspects of traditional culture and life in America. With more than 2 million items, it maintains the largest repository of traditional cultural documentation in the United States. The National Veterans History Collection preserved at the American Folklife Center will richly complement the Library's existing holdings on this subject of enduring importance.
AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization dedicated to making life better for older Americans. It provides information and resources; engages in legislative, regulatory and legal advocacy; assists members in serving their communities; and offers a wide range of benefits, special products and services for its members.
For more information about the Veterans History Project, visit the Web site at www.loc.gov/vets/.
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