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November 11, 2003
Contacts: Mamie Moore, 202-828-8843, [email protected], Brian Gill, 202-828-8830, [email protected], Fleishman-Hillard International Communications


Library of Congress’ American Folklife Center effort preserves America’s wartime history in the voices of those who lived it

Washington, D.C. (November 11, 2003) - On the 50th Anniversary of Veterans Day, the Library of Congress Veterans History Project (VHP) announces a series of special initiatives to celebrate the Project and renew the nationwide call for all Americans to honor our veterans by joining the VHP in preserving our nation's wartime stories.

The origins of Veterans Day are in Armistice Day, declared in 1918 to mark the end, on November 11, of World War I. The first observance of Veterans Day took place in 1953 in Emporia, Kansas. The following year, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law a bill that permanently changed the name of the holiday in order to honor all American veterans. On the 50th anniversary of the first observance of Veterans Day, the Veterans History Project announces several new initiatives:

  • Special Public Radio Event: The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress will present a one-hour Public Radio International (PRI) special entitled, "Coming Home," the first part of the series Experiencing War that will recount America's stories of sacrifice, triumph, great expectations and crushing disappointments. The program, drawn from the oral histories gathered by the Veteran's History Project, will be aired in early November. Max Cleland, American war hero and former U.S. Senator, will host the program.
  • New Web Features: The project has fully digitized twenty-four stories from the VHP archives to appear on the Library of Congress Web site. One comes from Vietnam veteran Rod Hinsch: "Only the veterans, history and God ever know the real truth about that Southeast Asia war fought long ago and so very far away," wrote the Army Special Forces veteran in his VHP submission. These personal narratives bring the project to life for all Americans to experience VHP on the internet. These twenty-four stories will be followed by many more culled from the Veterans History Project archives. The interviews, letters, photographs and memoirs can be viewed on line at http://www.loc.gov/vets/stories/.
  • New Story Gathering Kits: In response to overwhelming interest in the project, VHP has prepared two new easy-to-use kits for participants to use in recording their stories. A "Memoir Kit" provides guidance to veteran and civilian supporters who wish to document their own personal stories in writing. A new "Field Kit" equips third-party interviewers with forms and basic techniques necessary for successful interviews. The Field Kit will be distributed throughout the VHP's volunteer network, including to classrooms and youth partner organizations. VHP has also produced a large print version and an audio version for the sight impaired.

In less than three years, the Library of Congress' American Folklife Center, with support from the U.S. Congress and AARP, has collected over 10,000 wartime oral history submissions through the Veterans History Project.

"We are proud to have collected so many stories in three years. But with more than 1,700 of America's war veterans dying each day, our window of opportunity to preserve their stories for future generations is closing quickly," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. "Every veteran has his or her own war, and each is custodian of a unique story and memories. This project will tell the American story through thousands of different voices, thousands of different pictures and thousands of different memories."

Of the VHP's 10,000 submissions, no two are alike. Some veterans share their stories with friends and family through carefully crafted memoirs; others give interviews to nieces and nephews, grandchildren, and students, who have no personal remembrances of those times and events. Still others dust off their attic trunks and revisit their own war years (or those of deceased family members) through personal correspondence and photographs.

AARP, the nation's leading organization for people 50 and over, is the project's founding private-sector sponsor. Together with 800 VHP partner organizations that are participating in the project, AARP is working with its members and vast national network of over 150,000 volunteers to collect stories from everyday Americans whose heroic deeds and wartime efforts preserved freedom. "We are actively encouraging our 35 million members to tell their own story and reach out to veterans whose stories have yet to be archived," said AARP President Jim Parkel.

Authorized by legislation passed in 2000, the Veterans History Project, a program of the Library of Congress American Folklife Center, collects first-person narratives from veterans and civilians who served America during wartime. The Project preserves written and oral histories, along with other documentary materials, from veterans of World War I, World War II and the Korean, Vietnam and Persian Gulf Wars, as well as stories from civilians who served on the home front.

The Library of Congress is the world's largest library and the national library of the United States. The Library was founded in 1800, making it the oldest federal cultural institution in the nation. The mission of the Library of Congress is to make its vast holdings available and useful to Congress and the American people and to sustain and preserve a universal collection of knowledge and human creativity for future generations. The Library started the Veterans History Project in 2000 in response to Public Law 106-380, sponsored in Congress by Rep. Ron Kind, Rep. Amo Houghton, Rep. Steny Hoyer, Sen. Max Cleland and Sen. Chuck Hagel.

The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress was created in 1976 to document, preserve and present all aspects of traditional culture and life in America. With more than two million items, it maintains the largest repository of traditional cultural documentation in the United States. The National Veterans History Collection preserved at the American Folklife Center will richly complement the Library's existing holdings on this subject of enduring importance.

AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization dedicated to making life better for people 50 and over. It provides information and resources; engages in legislative, regulatory and legal advocacy; assists members in serving their communities; and offers a wide range of unique benefits, special products, and services for its members. These include AARP The Magazine, published bimonthly; AARP Bulletin, its monthly newspaper; AARP Segunda Juventud, its quarterly newspaper in Spanish; NRTA Live and Learn, its quarterly newsletter for 50+ educators; and its Web site, www.aarp.org. AARP has staffed offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

For more information about the Veterans History Project, visit the Web site at http://www.loc.gov/vets/
Media: To arrange interviews with veterans who have submitted stories to the Veterans History Project, representatives from Library of Congress and/or representatives from AARP, please contact Mamie Moore at 202-828-8843 or Brian Gill at 202-828-8830.

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