Historic Opportunity

Veterans’ Histories Will Be Recorded During WWII Memorial Opening

Posted May 7, 2004 at 1:47pm

When throngs of military veterans descend on the Mall in late May for the dedication of the National World War II Memorial, the Library of Congress plans to role out its own army — this one equipped with tape recorders — to greet them.

The Library’s Veterans History Project, a program dedicated to preserving the oral histories and memorabilia of 20th-century veterans, will deploy about 300 volunteers to gather oral histories from the thousands of veterans expected to attend the four-day “Reunion on the National Mall,” organized by the Smithsonian Institution in conjunction with the dedication.

“We will have an army of Library of Congress volunteers, walking throughout the grounds with tape recorders and asking veterans to record a short oral history,” explained Bev Lindsey, director of the Veterans History Project.

Created by Congressional legislation in 2000, the Veterans History Project, managed by the LOC’s American Folklife Center, focuses on collecting oral histories, as well as photographs, letters and journals, from military and civilian veterans of World War I and II, and the Korean, Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars.

During Memorial Day weekend volunteers — roving in teams of two across the Mall — will focus on gathering five- to 10-minute oral histories, with the goal of adding up to 3,000 new interviews to the project’s current collection of nearly 16,000 recordings.

“We’re interested in capturing anything that anybody wants to share with us,” Lindsey said.

The histories will be catalogued on the project’s Web site, www.loc.gov/folklife/vets, under a special section titled “World War II Reunion Memories.”

Project officials elected to collect brief interviews, Lindsey explained, with the “understanding that people are not likely to want to spend the hour to hour and a half that it takes to record a traditional oral history.”

Veterans will be offered the opportunity to record longer interviews for submission after the dedication weekend, Lindsey noted.

“We’re making a major push to take advantage of this historic event, when this is probably the last time that this many veterans will be gathered in one place, to collect as many first-person narratives on their wartime experiences” as possible, Lindsey said.

In addition to the recordings, the project will be collecting written memoirs, photos and letters from veterans.

A bank of computers will be available in the project’s pavilion, located near the National Air and Space Museum, for veterans to register and record personal narratives. Library personnel will be on hand to offer information about the veterans project, including how to volunteer for the program.

The Library will also host numerous panel discussions and presentations, focusing on topics such as “Former Prisoners of War,” “Navajo Code Talkers” “Tuskegee Airmen,” “D-Day Veterans,” “Women in the Military,” “Home Front Memories,” and “Covering the War — Wartime Journalists.”

In addition to numerous volunteers, Lindsey noted, Congressional offices are assisting with the four-day event. Among those taking part is Wisconsin Rep. Ron Kind (D), who was inspired by the war stories told by his father and uncle to draft the legislation that created the history project.

The addition of WWII narratives is especially important, Kind said, because an estimated 1,600 veterans die each day.

“We’re losing so many of them each and every day … and when they’re gone they take a very important piece of American history with them,” said Kind, who co-sponsored the project’s legislation with Reps. Amo Houghton (R-N.Y.) and Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and then-Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.) co-sponsored the legislation in that chamber.

Kind, who is hosting a breakfast for visiting veterans from his district, said he will encourage them to take part in the history project.

“Given the atmosphere I think there’s going to be a lot of nostalgia,” Kind said. “I think it’s going to conjure up a lot of memories for these veterans, and what better time to encourage them to sit down for a little bit.”