Tag Archives: Veterans History Project

Veterans Day 2013 – Making It Real!

Veterans Day 2013 deserves special observance – for many reasons.  For those who see the day to remember the sacrifices made by the men and women who have served this country, the day has historic and political significance.  For others the fact that November 11 falls on Monday means another long weekend.

Like the story of every veteran, the evolution from Armistice Day to Veterans Day is a story in itself.

The commemoration of Armistice Day on November 11 actually dates from November 1919 when President Wilson proclaimed the day Armistice Day in recognition of the agreement between the Allied Nations and Germany.  Interesting to note, it was not until June 4, 1926, that the US. Congress officially recognized the end of World War I.  And it was not until 1938 that the Congress officially designated November 11, “Armistice Day”, a legal holiday to honor those who served in World War I.

After World War II and Korea,  Armistice Day took on new meaning.   In 1954, Congress responding to public opinion and pressure from veterans groups by changing the name to “Veterans Day”, a day to honor American veterans of all wars.   On October 8, 1954 President Eisenhower issued the Veterans Day Proclamation that made that change.

In 1968 the Uniform Holiday Bill made major changes in the nation’s holidays.  The change was intended to ensure three-day weekends, originally for federal employees, by celebrating four national holidays on Mondays:  Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day.  The idea was that the extended weekends would stimulate travel and greater industrial commercial production.  The fact that not all of the states agreed with the plan continues to cause confusion.

No surprise, the first Veterans Day under the new law, celebrated on Monday, October 25, 1971, caused consideration confusion.  The three-day weekend eclipsed the historic and patriotic significance of the occasion.  As a result, in 1975 President Ford signed the law that returned the annual observance of Veterans Day to its original November 11 date, beginning in 1978.

So this year is rare in that the official Veterans Day does happen to fall on a three-day weekend.   The harmonic convergence ought to give us time to deal with some of our own conflicting thoughts.  As a people we are confused about war, and thus about  how to honor those who have served in the military.  Many of us have no experience on which to base our thoughts; some of us who have served are quiet about their experience.  Veterans of earlier wars are no longer with us to share their stories.

On Monday, November 11, thousands of Americans will gather in town squares and veterans cemeteries to honor the war dead.    Still, many of us may let the day pass with scant thought of its historic, patriotic or human significance.   We mean well, but we are easily distracted by the cares of the day.

One possibility is to pause at some point over the weekend to explore the Veterans History Project of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.  It is truly mesmerizing to read, view, and listen to the stories of veterans who have served in war and conflicts beginning with World War I and continuing through accounts of the Gulf War, the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts.    The resource offers a unique way to recreate, to learn and to generate discussion and understanding of veterans’ stories.  And it’s all online at http://www.loc.gov/vets/

Photos, letters from the battlefield, memorabilia and, most important, the recorded and transcribed stories of veterans  “put a face” on the experience of men and women who have generously shared their memories.    There are stories of young men and women facing boot camp, combat, boredom, loneliness and loss.  Some stories are whimsical, some tragic, all reflective of a time of stress and learning in the life of a young person away from home.  Each is recorded with the care of someone who took the time to capture the story for posterity.

The Veterans History Project collection includes combat veterans as well as the stories of civilians who were actively involved in support of war efforts – USO workers, flight instructors, medical volunteers and war industry workers.  The collection is easily searchable by the veteran’s name, his or her field of battle, hometown, branch of service or multiple other characteristics.

The Veterans History Project is an open source initiative.  The Folklife Center collection is a living resource;  anyone who has a story or who knows a vet or support person who has a story to share is encouraged to learn how easy it is to participate.    The website offers clear and easily followed guidelines for anyone who is willing to share his or her experience or to assist a vet to remember and record.

Trust me, you will find yourself absorbed in the stories of veterans you may never know – from these wise men and women we can all better understand why we set aside November 11 to honor them and their nameless colleagues.



Wrap Up American Archives Month with an Armchair Tour of the American Folklife Center

In a way I regret to see American Archives Month (October) come to an end.  There are so many stories to share… Of course there are always intriguing archival resources to be plumbed – it’s just that this month offers such a good reminder to take the time!

The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress  (http://www.loc.gov/folklife/) reigns as the epicenter of this nation’s archives.   Created by Congress in 1976 the Center  continues to collect living traditional culture at the same time it preserves the existing collections in the unique preservation facilities of the Library of Congress.

The American Folklife Center Archive was established in the Library of Congress Music Division in 1928.  Today it stands as one of the largest archives of ethnographic materials from the US and around the globe.  The collection includes millions of items recorded from the 19th Century to the present.  The collections include documentation of traditional arts, cultural expressions and oral histories.

The archives are so robust and so diverse that it’s best to plunge in at some modest level and see where the archival river flows.  There are numerous finding aids to the collection, including a guide to Minnesota collections in the Archive of Folk Culture compiled by Madeline Esposito and Ross S. Gerston.  (http://www.loc.gov/folklife/guides/Minnesota.html)  The guide will lead you to disc recordings of North American Indian songs originally recorded on cylinder by Frances Densmore, to the 1954 recording on tape of a public ceremony honoring Albert Woolson, the 107-year-old last surviving Union Army veteran, and on to an amazing collection of recordings of ethnic music, interviews, even a little Bob Dylan from back in the day.

Don’t think you have to go to Washington, DC to experience the treasures of the Folklife Center  Archives.  The American Folklife Center is tackling the challenge to provide online access to select portions of the collections.  Their approach is thorough and thoughtful.  The Center creates its own online presentations on various topics and the American Memory project (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/index.html) provides additional online access to the selected collections.  The online content may include a wide variety of media including audio samples of music and stories, digital images of rare letters and photographs and video clips.

The Veterans History Project (http://www:loc.gov/vets.about.html ) offers a case in point.  The Project collects first-hand accounts of U.S. veterans for the past century, from World War I through the  Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts.   The collection also includes recorded conversations with civilians who were actively involved in war support  efforts, whether as war industry workers, medical volunteers, flight instructors or others.  The founding member of the Veterans History Project is AARP.

Another readily accessible online  treasure that caught my eye and ear is the Lomax Family Collections  (http://www.loc.gov/folklife/lomax/) .  Though one thinks of the Lomax family and folk music, many of the recordings in the Lomax Family Collections are inclusive.  One recording of immense historic value is “After the Day of Infamy, (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/afcphhtml/afcphhome.html) , twelve hours of man-on-the-street interviews following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 – all available online.

Closer to home is another perfect example – with a Minnesota spin.  It’s a celebration of native languages that features a program sponsored by Twin Cities Public Television (TPT), “First speakers: Restoring the Ojibwe language.”  http://www.culturalsurvival.org/news/united-states/endangered-languages-programs-update-celebrating-native-american-languages-library.  For a listing of the online collections and presentations of the American Folklife Center go to http://www.loc.gov/folklife/onlinecollections.html.

And, just for fun, you might want to wrap up American Archives Month by taking time to enjoy the webcast  “How to find stuff at the largest library in the world” produced by the Library of Congress.  (RealPlayer required.)  http://www.loc.gov/today/cyberlc/feature_wdesc.php?rec=5980