The Library of Congress is famous for cataloging some of Americas’ greatest historical treasures. From every piece of copy written material to more notable additions like the Gettysburg Address and Thomas Jefferson’s Library, the breadth of documents, films, books and photos housed at the Washington D.C. landmark and support facilities is staggering.
So it should come as no surprise that the Library of Congress, through its American Folklife Center, is committed to capturing the legacy of the American Veteran.
The Veterans History Project focuses on preserving the accounts of Veterans’ lives and experiences. Created by Congress in 2000, the project resulted from a growing concern that personal experiences of American WWII Veterans were not being preserved.
“People who have made sacrifices for our country need to tell us what it means,” said Dr. Betsy Peterson, the director of the American Folklife Center, which oversees the Veteran History Project.
Peterson is adamant that the telling of history cannot be only from the top down, but must also be from the bottom up. An experienced oral historian, she strives to capture the full American story. It’s clear that the Veteran History Project has a special meaning to her and those who work on the project.
“History is much more than facts and dates,” Peterson said. ”It’s people.”
Every year, five to six thousand Veterans submit their oral history, and some even donate their personal collections of correspondences, diaries and memorabilia. The Veterans History Project reviews and preserves these items to ensure that our nation’s future generations will have firsthand accounts of what happened from the people who actually made the history.
The project is based in Washington, D.C., but is widely dependent upon volunteers across the country. According to Veterans History Project director Bob Patrick, one of the challenges faced by Veterans who wants to participate is finding an interviewer to record his or her story.
Patrick recommends visiting or talking to a local Veteran service organization, VA medical center, Vet Center, Veteran student organization or even a high school media class. All that is required is an interviewer who will listen, record and submit the documents. The Veterans History Project has a field kit and instructions that make the process simple.
Patrick also offers some advice to Veterans who are considering submitting to the project.
“Veterans should first spend some time reflecting, but then talk freely,” he said.
He said Veterans don’t need to know the exact details of their service to participate. Instead, they can simply focus on what their service meant to them back then and what it means to them now.
Veterans of any age or era can participate; the question of when to submit a story depends on the individual, because every Veteran processes his or her experiences differently and at their own pace.
If you are interested in contributing your oral history or volunteering to be an interviewer, please visit http://www.loc.gov/vets/vets-home.html.