- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 16, 2004

The Library of Congress is stepping up its effort to collect oral histories from the World War II generation because an estimated 1,000 veterans are dying every day.

The Veterans History Project started three years ago, but officials at the Library of Congress say there is a new sense of urgency to talk to veterans before memories of the war are lost forever.

“There’s a sense of, ‘Get the story now before it’s too late,’” said Diane Kresh, volunteer coordinator at the project, which in 2001 began collecting audio and video recordings of interviews with veterans conducted by their families and friends, students or historical associations.

The historians and volunteers behind the project plan to take advantage of the Memorial Day dedication of the National World War II Memorial on the Mall, which is expected to attract as many as 800,000 tourists to the District, including 100,000 World War II veterans.

The project is a congressionally mandated national and public effort to catalog personal stories from World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the 1991 Gulf war.

War veterans or civilians who served on the home front, friends or relatives of veterans or civilians, or anyone else interested can contribute to the project.

Information on submitting stories is on the project’s Web site: www.loc.gov/folklife/vets/.

In the past three years, the project has collected more than 15,000 submissions and more than 80,000 items, but the project now is focused on biographical accounts from World War II.

The Library of Congress will double its history project staff from 12 to 24 in the next year in an effort to collect more stories.

During all four days of the Memorial Day weekend celebration, more than 300 volunteers, about a third of them high school students, will seek out veterans on the Mall to interview and photograph. The history project needs more volunteers to follow up with veterans who give their names but don’t have time for interviews during the celebration.

Officials say fewer than 4 million of the estimated 16 million Americans who served in World War II are still living.

The World War II Memorial opened April 29. It will be dedicated on May 29.

“I don’t think there was a great deal of awareness until Tom Brokaw and people like that started talking about the greatest generation,” said Mrs. Kresh, referring to Mr. Brokaw’s 1998 book, “The Greatest Generation,” which pays tribute to Americans who grew up during the Great Depression and served during World War II.

Books such as “The Greatest Generation” and movies such as “Saving Private Ryan” and “Band of Brothers” have “opened the door” to appreciating the World War II generation, said Sandy Hart, 58, of Ballard County, Ky., who organized a bus trip for more than 800 veterans and their wives last week.

“But nothing could do justice,” she said. “There’s no end to this story.”

The history project is trying to set up partnerships with more high schools to interview veterans, because the interviews are educational and are a public service.

“It adds to the overall telling of the story and brings it to life, particularly for young people, who until recently did not have an experience of wartime. It adds texture and context to the study of history,” Mrs. Kresh said.

The history project also is encouraging partnerships with veterans groups, historical associations and libraries to start or enhance World War II collections of stories.

The history project’s long-term role will be to catalog all the data by name, date and battle, and to make the most compelling stories available on the Internet.

It also will serve as a research resource for scholars and authors.

The project accepts video or audio interviews with veterans up to 25 minutes long, up to 20 photographs, and letters, diaries, manuscripts or official documents. The project has designed a “project kit,” available on the Web site, with checklists and forms.

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