Stories of War: The Veterans History Project Is Preserving History, Honoring Our Past, and Calling on Libraries to Help

By McCulloch-Lovell, Ellen | American Libraries, August 2003 | Go to article overview

Stories of War: The Veterans History Project Is Preserving History, Honoring Our Past, and Calling on Libraries to Help


McCulloch-Lovell, Ellen, American Libraries


Rhona Marie "Ronnie" Knox Prescott of Staten Island, New York, served in the Army Nurse Corps in Vietnam from 1961 to 1975. In triage, it was her job to prioritize the wounded. "Let that one go; put that one on the table; this one can wait ...," she said in her interview with Judith Kent, a volunteer at the Flagler County (Fla.) Public Library. Prescott recalls that it was "like playing God ... there was no one else to do it."

John Walter Earle kept up a lengthy correspondence with his mother, grandmother, and other members of his family while he was in the service during World War II. He was proud of operating 20 stores, 20 post offices, 12 nightclubs, six movie theaters, 13 orchestras, five gyms, five Red Cross clubs, three hotels, one ski school, one cable car, a bus line, a bank, and a newspaper when he was stationed in Germany in 1945. Letters dated earlier than that already pointed to his native ability as an entrepreneur. He felt it was the Special Services Officer's duty to please the G.I. more than the regimental commander. The "function of the Special Service is to relieve the soldiers' mind of stress."

Prescott's and Earle's memories and documents are being preserved by the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress. They are examples of 21 stories from the Veterans History Project that are now featured on the project's website (www.loc.gov/folklife/vets/). On Memorial Day, the Veterans History Project launched what will grow into a researcher's online treasure chest of personal narratives of veterans and civilians. Visitors to the site can watch and listen to interviews, read letters and memoirs, and flip through photo albums that comprise the project's digital library.

In addition to the online resources, researchers are already viewing the Veterans History Project collection in the library's American Folklife Center reading room.

A massive education and volunteer project to collect the stories of veterans and the civilians who served in support of them, the Veterans History Project is the largest veterans oral history and documentation program in the country and growing daily. On the average, 4,000 people visit the website every day and on commemorative holidays--such as last Memorial Day--the website received 15,000 hits.

"The project is a unique way for all veterans to speak openly and freely about their wartime experiences. These recorded experiences not only serve to create a profound understanding of the realities of war, they also provide us with invaluable perspectives on veterans' wartime experiences as well as honor them as part of our national memory," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington.

The history of the project

Launched in late 2001, the project is growing rapidly. With more than 700 partner organizations and over 7,500 people submitting their stories, there are now more than 26,000 items in the collection.

The Veterans History Project was authorized by enactment of Public Law 106-380, and signed into law by President Bill Clinton on October 27, 2000. This bipartisan legislation was sponsored by Representatives Ron Kind (D-Wis.), Amo Houghton (R-N.Y.), and Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) in the House of Representatives, and in the Senate by Senators Max Cleland (D-Ga.) and Chuck Hagel (R-Nebr.). It passed unanimously.

This legislation called upon the American Folklife Center to develop a program to collect and preserve audio- and video-recorded oral histories from America's war veterans along with other documentary materials such as photographs, diaries, and letters. Covering World Wars I and II as well as the Korean, Vietnam, and Persian Gulf Wars, the collection includes all participants in those wars, men and women, civilian and military.

The Veterans History Project documents the contributions of civilian volunteers, support staff, and war industry workers as well as the experiences of military personnel from all ranks and all branches of service. …

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