U.S. Veterans Day Marked by Release of Vets' Stories

Jennifer Vernon
for National Geographic News
November 10, 2004

November 11, 1918, was the day that brought to a close "the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals," said the U.S. resolution establishing November 11 as a national holiday. The day marked the end of the Great War (later known as World War I).

In 1926 the U.S. Congress designated November 11 as Armistice Day to commemorate "the resumption of the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed" and to honor those soldiers both alive and fallen who served during the war.

Unfortunately "the war to end all wars" would not turn out to be so. After World War II and Korea, Congress changed the name of the day in 1954 to Veterans Day in order to include all soldiers who had served in combat. Since then other armed conflicts, from Vietnam to Iraq, have ensued, swelling the ranks of U.S. veterans into the millions.

As the U.S. honors veterans of all its wars tomorrow, Veterans Day, the U.S. Library of Congress and the Department of Veterans Affairs are working to make sure the nation never forgets their service.

Sharing Their Stories

Documenting the wartime experiences of the United States' veterans and helping those stories come alive for the public is the primary goal of the Library of Congress's Veterans History Project. Established in 2000 under the Clinton Administration, the project was initiated by Representative Ron Kind of Wisconsin, project director Diane Nester Kresh said.

The project has accumulated over 25,000 oral and video histories, letters, diaries, photographs, and artwork. Contributions have come from high school students, professional folklorists, and community groups like churches, veterans groups, and retirement homes.

The materials represent soldiers' experiences and civilian support efforts from the five major wars of the 20th century: World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the gulf war.

One hundred and thirty of the artifacts and oral histories are from veterans of World War I, a rare population, since they served between 1914 and 1918. The heaviest representation comes from World War II veterans who were more likely to write letters and keep diaries than later generations, Kresh said. The recent dedication of the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., she said, also renewed interest in this era and encouraged more veterans to share their experiences.

Veterans from Korea, Vietnam, and the gulf war are less likely to come forward, due to the political and social circumstances surrounding these conflicts, Kresh said. "We view it as a challenge, then, for us to get out there," she said, "because we feel that we have an obligation and a duty, really, to make sure that all these stories are told."

Living History

Continued on Next Page >>


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