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May 23, 2004
Press Contacts:
    Anneliesa Clump Behrend (202) 707-9822
    Helen Dalrymple (202) 707-1940


National World War II Reunion Gives All Who Served a Chance to Tell Their Story

The Veterans History Project (VHP) of the Library of Congress will participate in the National World War II Reunion on the National Mall in Washington, DC during Memorial Day weekend, May 27-30. The four-day event will include ceremonies and activities produced by the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and the American Battle Monuments Commission. One of seven pavilions and two performance stages on the Mall during the Memorial Day weekend, the Veterans History Project Pavilion (located near the National Air and Space Museum) will collect memoirs and stories onsite from those who experienced the war overseas and on the home front.

The National Reunion coincides with the American Battle Monuments Commission’s dedication of the National World War II Memorial on Saturday, May 29. The Veterans History Project invites all veterans and civilians who served to visit the Veterans History Project Pavilion on the Mall during the weekend and to contribute their stories to the archives of veterans’ histories, which is part of the Library’s American Folklife Center.

“The National World War II Reunion will be the largest-ever gathering of World War II veterans,” said Diane Kresh, coordinator of the VHP volunteers at the Library of Congress. “Our aim is to collect as many stories as possible over the four-day period. These stories will find a permanent home in the archives of the Veterans History Project along with the oral histories of veterans from other wars already in our collection.”

In an unprecedented effort, the Library of Congress will collect on-the-spot interviews from World War II veterans and civilians who served in support of them during the four-day weekend. In teams of two, Library of Congress staff will roam the National Mall to record the wartime experiences of World War II veterans and home front workers.

Volunteers from high schools, universities, civic groups and other organizations will also conduct interviews on the Mall. Participating volunteers will be from schools throughout the region including Connelly School of the Holy Child, Potomac, MD; Georgetown Day School, Washington, DC; Rutgers University's Oral History Archive, NJ; St. Andrew's Episcopal School, Potomac, MD; U.S. Senate Page School, Washington, DC; and West Virginia University, Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism, Morgantown, WV. These schools join the other 150 public and private schools around the country already participating the project.

In addition, more than 30 hours of panel discussions will take place at the VHP Pavilion during the four days. Topics, times and participants are below. Check the Web site at www.loc.gov/vets for complete details.

Former Prisoners of War: Richard Francies, Enso Bighinatti, Jimmie Kanaya and Marty Higgins
1 p.m. on May 27 and 11 a.m. on May 28

Reunion of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 1st Battalion (“Lost Battalion”) of the 141st Regiment of the 36th (Texas) Division
2 p.m. on May 27

Hispanic-American Experience During World War II: Frank Medina, Miguel Encinias and Evelio Grillo
1 p.m. on May 30

Japanese-American Experience During World War II: Warren Tsuneishi, Jimmie Kanaya, Marty Higgins and Frank Sogi
4 p.m. on May 28

Navajo Code Talkers: Sam Billison, Sam Smith, Keith Little
3:15 p.m. on May 27 and noon on May 30

Tuskegee Airmen: Lee Archer, Charles McGee and Thomas Lowery
2 p.m. on May 28 and 2 p.m. on May 30

D-Day Veterans: Sam Gibbons 11 a.m. and Tracy Sugarman, Bob Powell and Brig. Gen. Alvin Ungerleider
2:15 p.m. on May 27

Wartime Journalists: Paul Green, Barrett McGurn, Jack Pulwers and Col. Peter Sweers
3 p.m. on May 30

Women in the Military: Maj. Gen. Jeanne Holm, Miriam Ownby, Martha Putney, CW04 Elizabeth Splaine, Cdr. Ruth Erno
3 p.m. on May 28

Red Cross in WWII: Ruth Belew, Helen Colony, Mary O’Driscoll
4:15 p.m. on May 27

Women in Military Medicine: Maj. Jennifer Petersen, Anna Busby, Marian Elcano, and Martha Leierer
11 a.m. on May 30

Memories From the Home Front: Marion Gurfein, Helen Sudyk, Elizabeth Olson and Venus Ramey (Miss America 1944)
Noon on May 27

Other WWII Veterans: Sen. John Warner (R-VA) and Adm. J. L. Holloway; noon on May 28 and Robert Bloxsom, Jerry Brenner, Joseph DeLuca, John Sudyk and George Zavadil
5:15 p.m. on May 27 and 4 p.m. on May 29

Special Appearances: Fayard Nicholas; 1 p.m. on May 28; Venus Ramey (Miss America 1944); 5 p.m. on May 28. Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI), Rep. Amo Houghton (R-NY), Everett Alvarez, Jr., Gail Buckley, Lt. Gen. Julius W. Becton, Francisco Ivarra

Each of the participants tells the American story through his or her unique story and memories. Riki (Ruth) Belew from Laguna Woods, California, worked with the American Red Cross in clubs for the troops in North Africa: near Algiers, in Oran, and at the Casablanca Officers’ Club. After crossing the Mediterranean in the nose of a B-17 bomber during a terrific storm, she began service at a series of Red Cross clubs in Italy. She remembers being stationed near a staging area on the outskirts of Naples and dancing with hundreds of men a night.

Navajo Code Talker Sam Billison of Window Rock, Arizona, enlisted in the Marines in 1943 and was sent to signal school at Camp Pendleton, California, immediately after boot camp. He landed on Iwo Jima on the second day of the battle to take the island, and with other Code Talkers transmitted more than 800 error-free messages during 26 days of fighting. Following the war, Billison served as a school principal for many years and was elected to the Navajo Tribal Council.

Francis X. (Frank) Medina from Kansas City, Missouri, was a 20-year old tail gunner in the 459th Bomb Group of the 756th Bomb Squadron, when he was shot down over northern Italy in July 1944. Hit by anti-aircraft fire, the crew of nine bailed out; all but Medina were captured, and he was believed to be missing in action. On his own in unknown territory, he was befriended by Italians who helped him link up with the partisans with whom he was active for eight months. In 1945, Medina was rescued by the British.
In the Library of Congress Whittall Pavilion (Jefferson Building) from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 27-29, the Veterans History Project will be providing special hospitality, information about the Project, and a tour of the Library of Congress to invited Congressional constitutents while they are visiting Washington, DC, for the World War II Reunion.

Prior to the World War II Reunion, on May 23, volunteers will videotape members of Rolling Thunder Virginia Chapter 3 as they wash the walls of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in preparation for the Memorial Day weekend. The roving interviewers will also be collecting oral histories at the Pentagon parking lot from 7 a.m. - noon on Sunday, May 30, where Rolling Thunder motorcyclists assemble for Rolling Thunder Inc. XVII/Ride for Freedom.

Visitors to Washington are invited to view the Library of Congress “American Treasures” exhibit that is featuring special objects from the Veterans History Project collection, “From the Home Front to the Front Lines.” The exhibit highlights experiences of World War I, World War II, Korean, Vietnam and Persian Gulf veterans with first-hand accounts of war through letters, photographs, diaries, albums, maps, flags and newspaper clippings. The “American Treasures” exhibit is located in the Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First Street, S.E., and is open Monday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

In addition to the “American Treasures” exhibit and through July 10, the Library of Congress hosts the first comprehensive exhibit of Winston Churchill material in the United States. More than 200 items – ranging from the 9-year-old Churchill’s report card to handwritten notes passed between Churchill and Averell Harriman as they rode to the 1942 Churchill-Stalin conference – will be on display. Presented in conjunction with the Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge, England, the exhibit is located in the Thomas Jefferson Building and is open Monday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Authorized by legislation passed in 2000, the Veterans History Project is being carried out in the way that Congress envisioned: with grandchildren interviewing grandparents, veterans interviewing each other, and students conducting interviews as part of classroom assignments. The success of the program relies on volunteers rather than professional oral historians to collect stories and artifacts. AARP is the founding sponsor of the project, with more than 1,000 other organizations also participating.

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 benefits, special products and services for its members.

To learn more about the Veterans History Project, to submit your story online, or to view a schedule of panel presentations and other reunion activities scheduled over the four-day weekend, visit http://www.loc.gov/vets/.

Note: For biographical information on the veterans speaking in the Veterans History Project Pavilion and to speak with veterans from the Veterans History Project, contact (202) 707-9822 or (703) 470-4275.

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