Why Is The Library Of Congress Encouraging Civilians To Add To Their Archives?

Talk to any war veteran and one of the first things you’ll notice is that stories mean so much more when you talk to the people who were there. Facts and figures may tell you what happened, but only someone who lived through something can tell you how it actually felt. To capture these experiences, the U.S. Congress created the Veterans History Project in 2000.

Via Otis Historical Archives National Museum of Health and Medicine
Via Otis Historical Archives National Museum of Health and Medicine

The Purpose of the Project

With individuals and businesses across the nation volunteering their help, the project has and continues to record the stories of both military veterans and civilians who spent time in war zones.

The Veterans History Project collects stories for all the United States’ wars, dating back to World War I. Although audio and video interviews are the primary format, the project also accepts memoirs and documents. Why such emphasis on these stories, especially when the United States already has detailed records of all these wars? Because when a veteran tells a war story, it has emotional resonance. It helps the listener relate to those involved and understand the effect war had on those who fought in it.

It’s one thing to hear a news broadcast that lists the number of casualties in a war. It’s a remarkably different experience to hear someone like Rhona Marie Knox Prescott talk about her friend Eleanor dying because of a mix up with their assignment, and the guilt she carried with her for decades. The same goes for watching the interview with World War II veteran Bruce Donald Fenchel, who saw his tank commander die from a gunshot to the face immediately before his tank exploded.

The site is full of accounts like those, with almost 100,000 to date — accounts that demonstrate exactly what it’s like serving in a war.

The stories in the project go beyond what you find in the history books. No one would know how Fenchel also played cards with a Belgian family during the time he was hiding in their attic. If it weren’t for the project, stories like this would eventually disappear forever.

Via Resolute Support Media
Via Resolute Support Media

The Story Collectors

Volunteers are a vital part of the Veterans History Project. Anyone in contact with a veteran can interview them for the project, so friends and family members of veterans often set up the interviews. Students, teachers, veterans service organizations, and professional associations also schedule and execute interviews. Students must be in 10th grade or higher to submit to the project.

To help participants collect information, the Library of Congress has put together a field kit with instructions on the process and an interview outline. It also offers a companion video for the field kit. The kit includes forms for both the veteran and the interviewer to fill out.

All submissions to the project must follow the 30-20-10 rule, which stipulates the minimum amount of content for each type of submission. Interviews, both audio and video, must be at least 30 minutes long. Written accounts, such as diaries and memoirs, must be at least 20 pages. Other types of documents, such as military documents, photographs, letters and maps, must comprise at least 10 pages.

After collecting everything necessary for a submission, volunteers send it to the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress using a commercial carrier. The field kit includes exact address information. The project reviews the materials, sends a postcard to acknowledge receiving them, preserves the materials and then creates an online record.

Stories from war veterans aren’t just beneficial for the reader, but they also help the veterans, who often just want to feel like their voices are being heard. To learn more from resources on helping our returning veterans find peace, visit our Click-To-Give website. It’s free!

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