The Veterans History Project, a program of the Library of Congress American Folklife Center, presents “The Great War,” a tribute to World War I veterans, in a new section of its Web site at www.loc.gov/vets/.
Rich in personal detail, photographs, journals and letters, “The Great War” provides a virtual tour of some of the most compelling collections in the Veterans History Project archives and features stories of nearly two dozen men and women who served in World War I.
“In the Trenches” leads off the series of narratives and takes visitors to the front lines of the first mass war fought with modern weaponry. The second series, “Above and Beyond the Battlefield,” takes viewers through an insider’s examination of the experiences of aviators and others who served in support of the infantry.
One of those profiled in “The Great War” is Frank Buckles, the last of three surviving World War I veterans and the only one of the three to have served overseas. An underage but eager recruit, Buckles lied to a military recruiter to get into the Army, and then hounded his officers to be shipped out to France. He drove motorcycles, cars and ambulances in England and France, and during the postwar occupation, he guarded German prisoners. Buckles eventually went to work for the White Star Line and was in Manila on business on Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He spent more than three years as a prisoner at the city’s University of Santo Tomás. His collection includes two interviews, given when he was 100 and 103 years old.
Also profiled are Arnold Hoke and Clara Lewandoske, an infantry soldier and nurse, respectively, who met and married after the war. Lewandoske was assigned both to field hospitals and a huge facility in Paris, where both Gen. John J. Pershing and President Woodrow Wilson visited. Hoke joined the U.S. Army in 1917, and like so many others was thrust into trench warfare in France with little knowledge of what to expect. He saw every major battle in which the Army participated during World War I, and his straightforward descriptions of the trenches, the men lost and the randomness of who lived and who died are a timely reminder of the true cost of war.
“By sharing these firsthand accounts online, we hope to bring more people into direct contact with the stories of America’s World War I veterans,” stated Bob Patrick, director of the Veterans History Project.
World War I is among the least documented wars of those covered by the Veterans History Project, and the number of World War I collections is not likely to grow dramatically. “Because we’ve lost all but a handful of WWI veterans, it’s no longer possible to obtain oral history interviews,” says Patrick. “We’re relying on the generosity of relatives and friends of deceased veterans to donate written accounts in letters, diaries and memoirs, as well as precious collections of photographs.”
Commissioned by Congress in 2000 and supported by volunteer interviewers, the Veterans History Project collects and archives the personal recollections of U.S. wartime veterans and home front civilians who supported America’s armed forces to honor their service and share their stories with current and future generations. For more information, visit www.loc.gov/vets/, send an e-mail to email@example.com or call the toll-free message line at (888) 371-5848.