VETERANS TELL THEIR
STORIES AND WHY
G. Kurt Piehler
As the twentieth century came to a close, Americans displayed an increasing interest in the history of the Second World War. Anniversary ceremonies commemorating D-Day in 1994 and V-E Day in 1995 garnered extensive national coverage on all major television networks. Hollywood produced scores of new movies with World War II themes that were box office successes and often achieved significant critical acclaim. The works of Stephen E. Ambrose and other historians of the Second World War found their way onto the bestseller list. There was also a pronounced interest in listening to the voices of the World War II generation. Steven Spielberg has created a foundation to fund a massive oral history program to document the Holocaust. Tom Brokaw’s oral histories with selected members of the “Greatest Generation” made it to the bestseller list and spurred renewed public discussion of the role that World War II veterans played in shaping American society after 1945. In 2000, the U.S. Congress established a small but ambitious program in the Library of Congress to preserve the oral histories of World War II–era veterans.
This chapter will show how interest in the veteran’s voice is not a phenomenon confined to the closing decade of the twentieth century, but one that originated during the Second World War itself. In fact, historians serving with the U.S. Army developed an extensive and sophisticated program in the later stages of the war to systematically conduct oral histories with combat veterans. Introductory texts in the field of oral history generally recognize the importance of the work of S. L. A. Marshall, Forrest Pogue,