- The Washington Times - Friday, June 7, 2002

NEW YORK (AP) Concerned that history may be dying along with 1,500 American war veterans every day, archivists are starting an urgent effort to get their stories down in video and audio tapes for future reference.

The Veterans History Project was formally announced yesterday, the 58th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of France, at the USS Intrepid sea-air-space museum in New York.

"This is the raw material for a more comprehensive history than any ever written about a nation at war," said James Billington, the librarian of Congress, whose institution leads the project along with the AARP.

He said the project seeks to amass personal memories of America's five major 20th-century wars in "all media" letters, diaries and other written material, but the most important element is the "oral testimony" recorded on tape.

It provides a history of war from the bottom up, the soldier's perspective, as opposed to written histories that traditionally focused on the generals and grand strategy, Mr. Billington said in a telephone interview.

"The oral testimony allows us to see the expression on people's faces, how they experienced war emotionally as well as personally and intellectually," he said.

The Veterans History Project, initiated by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton in 2000, is run by the Library of Congress' American Folklife Center.

It has a council of political, military and journalism figures, including former Sen. Bob Dole, retired CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite, war historian Stephen Ambrose and Everett Alvarez Jr., one of the longest-held American prisoners of war in Vietnam, later a top Veterans Administration official.

Mr. Dole, badly wounded as an infantry officer in Italy during World War II, is chairman of the World War II Memorial Commission, which is building a monument on The Mall in Washington.

Some of the council members were expected to attend yesterday's event aboard the Intrepid, a scarred survivor of the Pacific War that now serves as a floating repository of military history.

There are about 19 million war veterans in the United States, most of them from World War II. But the rate at which they, and Korean veterans, are disappearing about 1,200 a day lends urgency to the history project.

About 200 organizations nationwide are participants in the project, which seeks to have as many veterans as possible recall their experiences in World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf war "even the few that are left" from World War I, Mr. Billington said.

The project encourages schools, libraries, veterans groups and other local entities to seek out veterans to tell their stories. A kit for the project is available from its Web site, www.loc.gov/folklife/vets.

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