Friday, November 9, 2001

Today’s generation of Americans, taking up the war against terrorism that began after September 11, can gain reassurance and strength of purpose from the Veterans History Project, founders said yesterday at its opening at the Library of Congress.
“Once again, our nation faces peril,” said retired Army Lt. Gen. Julius W. Becton, a veteran of World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars and former head of D.C. public schools. “Once again, we remember our heroes, the very ordinary men and women.”
“World War II really built America. It brought people together,” said World War II paratrooper and infantry veteran Sam Gibbons, 81, who retired in 1997 as a representative from Florida in the U.S. Congress. “It was a great homogenizer of America.”
“When our freedoms have been threatened, we have had to call upon the brave,” said U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, Hawaii Democrat, who lost his right arm in Italy in World War II and was subsequently awarded 15 medals.
Calling on the brave is what is happening now as the United States is sending troops into “foreign lands with unpronounceable names,” Mr. Inouye said.
It is important to remember the past, he said, adding that he was concerned on its 50th anniversary, to learn that 50 percent of high school seniors did not know that World War II began for America on Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
The Veterans History Project was authorized unanimously by Congress last year. Its purpose is to collect videos, recordings and written records from veterans of World War I, World War II, and the wars in Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf.
There are about 19 million veterans in America today, but more than 1,500 are dying each day, said James H. Billington, head librarian of the Library of Congress.
Still living are 2,212 World War I veterans, 5,032,591 World War II veterans, 3,769,254 from Korea, 8,221,038 from Vietnam, and 1,822,962 from the Gulf war, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
AARP, formerly the American Association of Retired Persons, is a sponsor of the project. Yesterday, AARP President Esther “Tess” Canja announced that AARP was giving $1 million a year for the next three years to the project.
Mrs. Canja said her father was a World War II veteran, whom she had urged fruitlessly to tell of his experiences. He would not, she said, “but I assure you that he will now.”
U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, 38, Wisconsin Democrat and a sponsor of legislation to create the project, said the idea took root about three years ago as his father and uncle, veterans of the Korean War and World War II, sat around the kitchen table,.
“They had been reluctant to talk of this before,” Mr. Kind said. “I had never heard of their experiences before,” and he got out his video camera to record it for himself and his children.
“If only I had the oral history of my father’s life,” said Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, explaining that his father was an Army doctor ministering to the wounded in World War I.
His father kept his helmet and Browne belt in his office after the war and a German officer’s Luger pistol that he would not allow his son to hold. Mr. Warner was in the Navy at Normandy on D-Day. His father died soon after he returned to the United States. Mr. Warner re-enlisted in 1950, this time as a Marine, and served in Korea.
Three brief videos samples of what the project’s expected histories will be like were shown.
Samuel Smith, a code specialist who used his Navajo language for secret World War II messages, told of stepping outside the enlistment office to forge an older age so he could enlist.
There are 104 “partners,” or organizations, so far in 44 states that are contacting and encouraging veterans to submit their memories, said Library of Congress employee Sarah Rouse.
“We will see a portrait of America,” Mr. Inouye said.

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