On October 27, 2000, a quest began. It was designed to preserve for future generations the realities, emotions and experiences of those who fought in and supported America's wars throughout the 20th century.
Entitled the "Veterans History Project," it is operating under the aegis of the Library of Congress and its American Folklife Center. Monday night that project, its goal and objectives, was brought to the veterans of Alexandria by one of its prime sponsors, U.S. Rep. James P. Moran (D-8).
Addressing the more than two dozen veterans assembled in the Royal Restaurant in Alexandria, Moran reminded them, "We have more than 63,000 veterans in this district. Northern Virginia really ought to take the lead.
"This is the legacy we are going to leave for many generations to come. It needs to be a complete message. All veterans have a story to tell. It is designed to be both an oral and written history. We need to do this for the future, not just the veterans."
Assembled at the restaurant were veterans from World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf War. "There isn't an American alive who doesn't know a veteran," Moran said. "This is the way history should be recorded."
TAKING THE lead in enlisting the help of the various veterans organizations represented was Peter Bartis, senior program officer of the project at the Library of Congress' American Folklife Center. "We are building a monument like no other in this area and the key to this project is you," he told the gathering.
Memorial Day morning, May 26, the project will be featured on NBC's Today Show, Bartis noted. "No story is too small," Bartis insisted. "These are important documents for our nation's history."
Created by an act of Congress, the project is designed to honor the nation's war veterans and those who served to support them by creating a lasting legacy of recorded interviews and other documents about their experiences in combat and in the various war efforts.
Officially known as Public Law 106-380, its passage was noteworthy in its own right as one of the few pieces of legislation to receive the unanimous vote of Congress. Moran was a prime sponsor of the legislation.
With nearly 1,500 veterans dying each day, Congress recognized the urgency of such a project. Bartis recalled, "I personally interviewed a veteran who had served in World Wars I and II, Korea and Vietnam. I was so overwhelmed talking to him I nearly blew the interview."
DIRECTING THE evening's program was Michael Reddan, president, Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 917. In introducing Moran, Reddan noted, "Jim has been a consistent supported veterans and veterans’ issues."
When asked how long the project would be underway, Moran answered, "We are going to keep it going as long as there is an interest. It came about as a perfect storm of interest between the Congress, the Library of Congress and the veterans."
Bartis explained, "There are more than 700 official partners helping with this project today. They are made up of schools, universities, municipalities, corporations and various organizations." A major partner is the American Association of Retired Persons.
"In the first year we had 6,000 interviews come to the library," Bartis said. "We are also collecting letters, diaries and photos. There are 19 million war veterans in the United States today."
Bartis distributed a packet of information explaining how anyone can be involved in collecting the various recollections of veterans. Included was a letter from Ellen McCulloch-Lovell, director of the project, that stated, "This year we are placing special emphasis on our Volunteer Corps of interviewers throughout the nation ... ontact us directly to receive our instructional kit."
CONTACT WITH the project can be made in the following ways:
* web address: www.loc.gov/vets,
* Message line to request a kit: (888) 371-5848,
* Fax: 202-252-2046, or
* E-mail for questions or kits: firstname.lastname@example.org.
All audio and video tapes, written recollections, and photos should be shipped to: The Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, 101 Independence Ave., SE, Washington, D.C. 20540-4615.