September 2, 2008 VHP Spotlights Achievement and Sacrifice During Hispanic Heritage Month
Press Contact: Jeffrey Lofton (202) 707-6432; Jessica Maccaro (202) 707-9822
Public Contact: Veterans History Project (202) 707-4916
The Library of Congress Veterans History Project (VHP), a program of the American Folklife Center, will commemorate Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 – October 15) with a special Web presentation profiling American veterans of Hispanic descent. Twelve fully digitized collections have been added to the “Experiencing War” Web series. Learn more at www.loc.gov/vets/.
Rich in detail and firsthand narratives, the presentation chronicles the wartime experience of Hispanic American veterans through audio- and videotaped interviews, letters, photographs and written memoirs from the VHP collections.
Featured narratives, such as that of Antonio Martinez, animate history. On Christmas Eve 1944, Martinez was one of 2,235 American servicemen aboard a Belgian transport ship, the Leopoldville, on its way from England to France. Five miles from its destination, a torpedo from a German U-boat struck the ship, and it sank within three hours. Martinez helped a man who could not swim. One of the last rescued from the water, Martinez survived, but more than 750 GIs did not. His in-depth account of this tragedy, among the worst in U.S. military history, is a welcome addition to the public record, as survivors were told at the time not to discuss the episode. It took 50 years before an official monument to those who went down with the ship was erected.
Some featured veterans, such as Leroy Quintana, went on to gain fame after military service. Drafted to serve in Vietnam in 1967, Quintana did at one point consider fleeing across the border into Canada. But his mother had instilled in him respect for military service, and he stayed on. Serving in the 101st Airborne at the height of U.S. involvement, he kept a notebook of his experiences on five-man reconnaissance teams. “There was no reward for people returning from Vietnam,” recalls Quintana, “especially in the Army.” Quintana became a published, award-winning poet who sometimes uses his days in the service as inspiration for his work.
Other stories, such as that of Joseph Medina, give personal perspective to current events. Following in the military tradition of his family dating to the 15th century in Spain and later in Mexico, Medina entered the U.S. Naval Academy in 1972. In 2003, Medina was promoted to brigadier general, one of the first Hispanics to hold the rank in the U.S. Marine Corps. More recently, he commanded the Expeditionary Strike Group Three during Operation Iraqi Freedom, during which he was responsible for developing the Iraqi Coastal Defense Force. “If something goes bad in Iraq,” says Medina, “the press focuses on it and everybody sees it. But sometimes they don’t see all the good things that are getting better.”
More than a dozen sets of individual collections have been featured on the Veterans History Project Web site. Past themes include D-Day, prisoners of war, female veterans, military medicine, spies and African-American veterans. Companion sites to the project’s two books, “Forever a Soldier” and “Voices of War,” can be viewed on the “Experiencing War” section of www.loc.gov/vets/.
The Library of Congress, the nation's oldest federal cultural institution, is the world's preeminent reservoir of knowledge, providing unparalleled collections and integrated resources to Congress and the American people. Many of the Library’s rich resources and treasures may also be accessed through the Library’s Web site www.loc.gov and via interactive exhibitions on a new, personalized Web site at www.myLOC.gov.
The Veterans History Project was created in 2000 by Congress to record the first-hand remembrances of American service personnel in major conflicts beginning with World War I. Those interested in conducting or giving interviews can download a VHP Field Kit from the Veterans History Project Web site at www.loc.gov/vets/, request a kit via email at [email protected] or call the toll-free message line at (888) 371-5848.