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September 16, 2004
Veterans History Project Highlights More Stories of Sacrifice
"Prisoners of War" Stories Go Online
A new collection of 20 fully digitized collections of materials submitted by war veterans is now available on the Library of Congress Web site at www.loc.gov/warstories. This is the fourth set of individual stories - comprising interviews, letters, photographs and written memoirs - to be featured on the site, which is titled Experiencing War: Stories from the Veterans History Project. This new release marks National POW/MIA Recognition Day on Sept. 14 and brings the total of stories available on the online searchable database to 630.
The Library launched the Experiencing War site last year organized around themes such as stories of courage, the effects of war on relationships, life-altering moments and D-Day experiences.
This fourth online presentation of personal narratives includes moving remembrances from former POWs held captive in Germany, Japan, Korea and Vietnam. The digitized materials are part of the continuing effort by the Library to make its collections accessible online. The Veterans History Project of the American Folklife Center plans to make available in the future other stories from the 20,000 submissions the project has received to date.
"Anyone interested in America’s history can learn it firsthand from those who lived it. The Veterans History Project Web site features stories in the veterans’ own voices as well as photographs and other materials from those who served in combat and on the home front," said Diane Kresh, director of the Veterans History Project.
One of the featured veterans in this latest online presentation, navigator Milton Stern, was shot down over Holland in March 1944. Stern was sheltered by Dutch partisans for 10 weeks
before being captured and sent to a German prison camp. There he recorded lists of German rations by weight and composed poems to keep up his spirits. In his memoir he wrote, "Things I Must Do on Return Home. One, get married and start a family. Two, get in touch with other members of my crew." He fulfilled both promises. However, in a 1988 letter Stern wrote it was getting harder to keep in touch with his wartime buddies as he once promised because of changes in their addresses.
Infantryman Jose Mares was eating his Thanksgiving dinner on Nov. 24, 1950, while on duty in Korea when North Korean troops attacked his unit, killing soldiers seated on either side of him. Five days later he was captured, the beginning of almost three years of brutal treatment. Mares wouldn’t break, even after he was nearly executed for simply refusing to offer any more information than his name, rank, serial number and date of birth.
Sen. John McCain’s 5½ years of captivity in North Vietnam were divided into two phases. Initially this son and grandson of high-ranking naval officers was accorded relatively privileged status. Then he refused early release - which he saw as a public relations stunt by his captors - insisting that POWs held longer than he should be granted their freedom first. Thereafter McCain was treated much more severely by his captors, but he also had more of an opportunity to bond with his fellow prisoners.
Veterans from World War I, World War II, and the Korean, Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars, and the civilians who supported them, are coming forward to record their personal stories and contribute personal documents to a growing archives at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. The goal is to collect, preserve and share with future generations the stories of all American war veterans.
Authorized by legislation passed in 2000, the project is being carried out in the way that Congress envisioned: with grandchildren interviewing grandparents, veterans interviewing each other and students conducting interviews as part of classroom assignments. This program is the only nationwide oral history and documentation effort that relies completely on volunteers rather than professional oral historians to collect stories and artifacts. AARP is the founding sponsor of the project, with hundreds of other organizations also participating.
Those who are interested in becoming involved in the Veterans History Project are encouraged to e-mail the office at firstname.lastname@example.org to request a project information kit. The kit is also available on the Veterans History Project Web site at www.loc.gov/vets/ or by calling the toll-free message line at (888) 371-5848.
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