The Library of Congress Veterans History Project (VHP) and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) are joining in an initiative to engage the broadest possible community in gathering firsthand recollections of the diverse men and women who have served the United States during wartime.
Launched at the Library on April 17, the public outreach campaign will capitalize on the PBS broadcast of Ken Burns's new film, "The War," to promote nationwide interest in collecting the stories of war veterans and contributing them to the VHP for preservation at the Library. PBS will begin showing the seven-part series on Sept. 23.
"The staff of the Library of Congress and I are excited to launch this comprehensive community awareness campaign with PBS and Ken Burns," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. "We stand at the ready to continue our tradition of honoring America's war veterans by preserving their stories for future generations. The Veterans History Project collects and archives the one-of-a-kind stories that represent the diversity of the veterans who served our country—veterans from all conflicts, all branches of the military, all ranks, all races and ethnicities."
"The War," directed and produced by Burns and Lynn Novick, provides a partial snapshot of the World War II experience through the personal accounts of a handful of men and women from four geographically distributed American cities: Waterbury, Conn.; Mobile, Ala.; Sacramento, Calif.; and the tiny farming town of Luverne, Minn. The series explores the most intimate human dimensions of one of the greatest cataclysms in history—a worldwide catastrophe that touched the lives of people throughout the country—and demonstrates that in extraordinary times, there are no ordinary lives.
Addressing a Library audience that included members of Congress who have supported the VHP project, Burns said, "As [we] heard these stories of individual veterans telling what happened to them … we suddenly realized that this extraordinarily and admirably reticent generation [of World War II veterans], now at the end of their lives, with the intimation of their own mortality facing them day by day, were beginning to say, 'I want to tell my story.'"
He added that a "grateful republic needs to be there" to listen to these stories and preserve them for all time. "Our idea is to collect this wonderful body of testimony that will help us retain this memory that is hemorrhaging out and will be gone forever unless we capture it [and add it to] this extraordinary repository," Burns said.
"PBS is proud to partner with the Library of Congress on this extraordinary effort to involve the entire country in a national discussion about World War II and the contributions of this generation," said Paula Kerger, president and chief executive officer of PBS.
She said, "[The War] is a magnificent piece of filmmaking that looks at the Second World War in the most intimate ways, allowing a handful of individuals to tell their stories. We hope that the film will build interest in the broader, important work of the Veterans History Project and encourage thousands of people from coast to coast to share their stories with friends, loved ones and, ultimately, the country through the collection at the Library of Congress."
"There have been countless books and films about the Second World War," Burns said. "In 'The War,' we try to allow a small group of individuals to tell their bottom-up stories. This film is as much about storytelling, about sharing unique experiences, as it is about World War II, and we hope it touches on the universal human experience of battle. Of course, the film only provides a small window into the much larger experience of the hundreds of thousands who have served during times of war. We hope that by providing the tools to people around the country, especially young people, we can work together to capture many more of these stories before the generation that fought in World War II has passed."
To support the recently announced initiative by the Library of Congress, PBS and Ken Burns to collect oral histories of America's World War II veterans, the Library of Congress Veterans History Project has produced new resources to help the public learn about and participate in the effort. A new section on the VHP Web site (www.loc.gov/vets/) features background on "The War" and details on how to support the campaign. The section will be updated continually with event listings and related information. In addition, a newly revised and updated VHP field kit provides step-by-step instructions for collecting and preserving veterans' stories, with pointers from Burns and Novick on lighting and shooting the video. Additional information provides directions on how to send recorded interviews to the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress.
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting is funding this enormous community-engagement campaign for "The War," involving more than 100 public television stations nationwide that will reach out to a broad range of veterans and their families to capture the stories that make up the rich mosaic of America. Public television stations will target thousands of individual stories to be shared locally on-air, online and through community events and activities. For more information, visit www.pbs.org/thewar/.
Corporate funding for the outreach initiative is provided by General Motors and Anheuser-Busch. Major funding is provided by the Lilly Endowment, Inc.; Public Television Viewers and PBS; the National Endowment for the Humanities; the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; and the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations. Additional funding is provided by the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Longaberger Foundation and Park Foundation, Inc.
The Veterans History Project, a major program of the Library of Congress American Folklife Center, is an oral history program created by Congress in 2000 to collect and preserve the personal recollections of U.S. wartime veterans, as well as homefront civilians who worked in support of the armed forces, to honor their service and share their stories with current and future generations. To date, the VHP has collected more than 45,000 individual stories, many of which are accessible online. For more information, visit www.loc.gov/vets/. To become involved, download the new VHP field kit from the Web site, request the kit via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the toll-free message line at (888) 371-5848.