"Distinguished speakers and guests: It is inspiring to see you all here today, to honor those who fought the decisive battle on D-Day, 58 years ago, and to carry on their memories and the histories of those who fought in other wars that changed the world, earning us the freedoms we have today. It is especially moving to be on board the USS Intrepid, a ship that fought in three wars, and to be near the site of the September 11 attack on America.
With your help, and the help of children, grandchildren, and volunteers across the country, the Veterans History Project of the Library of Congress will become a living monument to all who served, who sacrificed, who changed the course of history.
Fiftyeight years ago, the United States and our Allies hurled an unimaginable force against the tyranny of the Nazis: over 5,000 ships and landing craft; 1,500 tanks; 10,000 airplanes; and 150,000 troops. Behind them, thousands more men and women —military and civilian alike—who planned and executed Operation Overlord, directed by General Dwight D. Eisenhower.
But more than that overwhelming power, it was the courage of those who fought that won the day. Over 4,000 in the landing force died during the invasion and during the days after June 6—on the beaches, on the cliffs, in the fields of France. Fortunately, many lived through those harrowing hours to tell us what they did, and what it means to them almost 60 years later.
People like Philip Russell of Kirkwood, N. Y., whose videotaped interview for the Veterans History Project tells us about his parachute landing into a field of cows, and what he did that fateful day, in vivid recall.
Like Sam Gibbons, a young soldier from Florida, who led the parachute infantry forces of the101st Airborne in that predawn invasion, and went on to serve in Congress for 34 years. Congressman Gibbons is a member of our distinguished Five-Star Advisory Council. Today he is speaking in France, in a small town he helped liberate 58 years ago.
Each of the stories enriches our history and brings it to life for our children and their children, who must remember what was done on their behalf. That is why Congress unanimously created the Veterans History Project in the Library of Congress' American Folklife Center.
Members of Congress wanted the national library to collect the personal accounts of veterans and civilians who served our nation in wartime. We can all read the history books. But hearing the firsthand experiences is living history. If we are to protect our future, then every generation has much to learn from those who served.
As World War I and World War II veterans leave us, we want to be sure they leave their stories behind.
Almost six decades ago, citizens answered a call to arms. Now I ask you to answer a different call: a call to action to ensure that these stories of service are heard—and preserved —for future generations.
If you are a veteran of World War I, World War II, or the Korean, Vietnam or Persian Gulf wars, we want to hear from you. If you served in any of the service branches, the Coast Guard or Merchant Marine, and if you served as a civilian to support the war effort, we want to collect your story.
The Veterans History Project is enlisting veterans organizations, libraries, museums, classrooms and civic organizations to identify and interview veterans, and to send the Library their audio or videotaped accounts, or written memoirs, letters, diaries and photographs.
There is a complete instruction kit on how to do an interview, ask for these documents, and send them to the Library. The Veterans History Project is talking to hundreds of veterans and their families each week and mailing them the kit, or letting them know about all the information on the Web site.
The result will be a living memorial of personal accounts whose value will increase over the years, as students, teachers, family members, researchers and others extract the experiences recorded here. The Library of Congress and the American Folklife Center will preserve these stories and make them available to the public, as a legacy of honor for generations to come.
To forget is to jeopardize the future of our democracy; to remember is to be good citizens.
Thank you very much."