20th CENTURY WARFARE PORTAL
by Courtney Brooks
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Nov. 5, 2002)
The great wars are usually remembered for their bloodiest
battles, most decorated brass and historic treaties, rarely
do the soldiers and civilians on the home front have an
opportunity to voice their individual experiences.
The Veterans History Project is giving soldiers a chance to
relay these personal stories. Project organizers are
encouraging Americans of all ages to participate in a mission
to capture and chronicle oral histories from America's war
veterans. The stories will become a collection in the
Library of Congress' American Folklife Center, located in
Volunteers interview veterans, collect letters, photographs
and journals from former service members of World War I,
World War II, and the Korean, Vietnam and Persian Gulf Wars,
as well as the civilians who supported them.mMost importantly,
the project seeks to honor the individual's experience, said
Ellen McCulloch-Lovell, director of the Veterans History Project
at the Library of Congress. "We're not attempting to patch
together a complete history of every war," said McCulloch-Lovell.
"We're trying to let people talk about their experiences and what
meant the most to them."
The personal wartime accounts have preserved history that may
have otherwise been forgotten, said Charlie Mendoza, vice president
of membership and member services for the American Association of
Retired Persons, a founding sponsor of the project. "In New York,
I witnessed an interview with a young man from a college
interviewing a man who used to use Navajo code [a Navajo code talker]
with the Marine Corps in World War II," Mendoza said. "I thought,
'That's terrific.' That's something that might have been lost." Mendoza
said that the U.S. is losing 1,600 veterans a day and before long,
there won't be any memory to collect. Wartime accounts are an important
part of America's history, he said. "Not only does war change a lot of
countries; it changes nations, it changes people," Mendoza said. "With
every war that has taken place, changes take place on the home front."
Mendoza not only encourages members of the AARP, but all Americans to
become involved with interviewing veterans. He believes everyone,
particularly youth, have a lot to benefit from the project.
Eleven-year old Edward Litten has taken it upon himself to interview
some 20 veterans since April. He said that young Americans should
participate in this program because they don't know what they're
missing. The "Young Marine" has conducted the interviews at the
Southeastern Michigan Veterans Service Center near his home in
Monroe, Mi. Litten volunteered three days per week the entire summer
and after school every day during the school year, hoping to catch a
veteran to interview. "I think it's really cool to hear all the veteran's
stories and just know the fact that they're not going to be forgotten,"
Litten said. "Some of the stories are really sad because not everything
in the war was really cool. There were a lot of sad parts."
Veterans have also gleaned new understanding from interviews by a younger
generation. A Korean and Vietnam veteran himself, Mendoza was interviewed
by his youngest daughter. He said that the experience helped bridge
generational gaps, which he said is one of the goals of the project."It
has gotten us a lot closer, honestly," said Mendoza. "They wanted to know,
'Why was dad gone so much?' and 'Why wasn't dad around?' when they were
younger." Capturing civilians' stories from the wartime eras are also
important, Mendoza added. "Even though this project is concentrating on
veterans themselves, I think another important part is working with the
veterans who stayed at home," Mendoza said. "That's an important part of
our collective memory...not just the people who went off to service."
Authorized by Congress through the enactment of Public Law 106-380 and
signed into law by President Clinton on Oct. 27, 2000, the Veterans
History Project has chronicled histories of approximately 1,500 veterans
to date. McCulloch-Lovell hopes to reach much larger masses for the
historical collection. The project will be ongoing with goals of reaching
literally millions of people, she said. Although she missed out on the
opportunity to interview her own father, who served in the Navy in World
War II, she was able to help her mother make 1,800 copies of his letters
to her. She realized how precious this opportunity was and invites others
to share in the experience. "You can do it (interview)," McCulloch-Lovell
said. "It's a wonderful experience. I've done a number of these interviews
myself and they're unforgettable." Litten agreed that the experience has
been worthwhile, even though he has spent quite a bit of time going to
Michigan's Flat Rock Speedway picking up deposit bottles to pay for the
postage and videotapes for the interviews being sent to the project's
headquarters. "I just feel like I'm doing my part in history and making
sure that people remember all the stories and all the wars," Litten said.
"There are only two wars in my history book anymore-the Revolutionary War
and the Civil War-and there's not too much on those wars at all."McCulloch-
Lovell said that other youth and adults can get involved in the ongoing
project by accessing the Veterans History Project Web site or calling a
toll-free number, which provides guidelines for partners and volunteers.
A project kit, with instructions, for people who would like to interview
veterans is available on the Web site. Already, more than 420 organizations
have partnered with the project, including veterans' service organizations,
historical societies, libraries, museums, military archives, colleges and
universities, military historical groups and heritage areas. The oral
histories and documents collected will be part of the national Veterans
History Project Collection at the Library of Congress and other recognized
repositories, McCulloch-Lovell said. Eventually, portions of the material
will be available digitally on the Library of Congress Web site, she added.
To become involved with the project, visit the Veterans History Project Web
site at www.loc.gov/veterans/ or call the toll-free number at 1-888-371-5848.
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