|President John F. Kennedy|
President John F. Kennedy said, “A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.”
November 11 is Veteran’s Day – a day set aside to honor all American veterans who have served in our wars. But time is passing and each day we lose more veterans, and their stories.
|US Department of Veterans Affairs|
According to US Department of Veterans Affairs, the last WWI veteran died in 2012 at the age of 110. There are only 558,000 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II still alive. A million and a half Korean vets remain. Surviving vets of Vietnam total 6.7 million while there are 7.13 million Gulf War veterans alive, and 4.5 million who served during peacetime. These stats are current as of September 2017. But how many veterans have we lost since then?
There are several groups and organizations across the country that take these interviews and preserve them for future generations. Here are just a few:
This popular genealogy site is focusing on saving the stories of WWII veterans before it’s too late. Millions of records were lost in a fire in the National Personnel Records Center destroying about 80-100 pages per soldier. Information that included battles fought in, medals and honors received, occupations held during the war, diseases and injuries suffered, parental information, affidavits of character, photographs and letters from commanding officers – all of the details that make a service record a story. Ancestryprovides a list of questions that can jump-start the conversation. All you have to do is capture your WWII veteran’s reminisces on video (Please edit it down to no longer than 4 minutes.) and upload it to the Ancestry site where it will be included in a free collection for anyone to view.
It takes only one person to start a movement and that is what 20-year-old Rishi Sharma is doing. After graduating from high school, Sharma decided to try to preserve as many veteran’s stories about WWII as he could. With 372 of those vets dying each day, Sharma has his work cut out for him. Sharma began Heroes of the Second World War, a web site where the videos of these soldiers are available for viewing. He also makes sure the veteran, and his or her family, have copies of the interview. It takes between 4-6 hours to record an interview but Sharma intends to interview at least one WWII vet each day until the last one is gone.
Veterans History Project (VHP)
In 2000, Congress created the Veterans History Project to preserve veteran’s personal stories. The VHP maintains not only video stories but materials veterans and their families donate including uniforms and medals. Each veteran has an individual web page that includes his or her service history along with other information provided. Check out the FAQ page before starting. Then visit the Participate page to take part in the project, and print out the VHP field kit forms. Fill them out and submit the entire kit with a video to the VHP for inclusion in the Library of Congress.
Witness to War (WTW)
Witness to War is a non-profit private preservation organization that records the digital stories from veterans who served in all American wars. The interviews are then professionally edited into 2 to 5 minute war stories and are available on the WTW web site for viewing. The short format makes the interviews more interesting and approachable to today’s media savvy generation. The organization has an extensive collection of combat narratives – close to 1,500 interviews, and counting. To request an interview visit the WTW web page.
If you know a U.S. veteran, set a date, grab your questions and head out with your phone to capture his or her story for posterity. More than 600 WWII vets die each day … there’s no time like the present to get started.