Commentary: Pause to hear 'living history' on Vets Day
November 5, 2010
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Nov. 5, 2010) -- This year on Veterans Day, young Americans are being issued a challenge: reach out to World War II veterans and listen to their stories.
"America's families need to hear the stories of our Greatest Generation," says Dr. Gordon Mueller, president of the National World War II Museum.
Mueller and his staff have issued a "call to ears, not arms." They want us to take some time Nov. 11 and seek out at least one World War II veteran - before it's too late.
The statistics are daunting: Only about 12 percent of those who served in World War II remain to tell their story. And an average 800 veterans of that conflict pass away every day.
But it's not too late yet - almost 2 million of the 16 million Americans who served in that war are still with us. Mueller challenges us to seek them out at Veterans Administration Hospitals or at American Legions. He urges us to ask friends and neighbors if they have a relative who served.
Many of these veterans - some who Mueller said went decades before they could comfortably talk about their war experiences -- now are just waiting for someone to ask.
So ask - and do more if you can -- record their stories.
Thinking back, I really wish that I had recorded the stories of my uncles. As a young boy, I spent many a summer evening listening to their tales of World War II.
We'd sit around a campfire at my Uncle Bill's hunting camp in the mountains and he'd tell us exploits about his days in the Navy.
We'd also sit under the crabapple tree in my other uncle's front yard, and as fireflies flickered, Uncle Tony would tell stories of the 1st Infantry Division in North Africa. He told of German artillery at Kasserine Pass and firefights in the desert.
He told of how a comedy of errors helped him find a unit lost behind enemy lines and earned him the Silver Star. He told of how he was injured in Sicily and hid under a bridge for days as German units passed by.
I didn't think those stories would ever fade away.
I thought my uncles would always be there to entertain and enlighten. But time takes its toll.
So take up the challenge this Veterans Day and listen to "living history." Videotape the story of a World War II veteran if you can.
Help record the oral histories of World War II. The National World War II Museum in New Orleans, La., has recorded almost 4,000 oral histories so far. And these tapes also include stories from those who fought on the homefront -- women who worked in factories or tended Victory Gardens and experienced blackouts and rationing.
About 80 of these oral histories can be heard at interactive booths in the museum and the rest are available in the archives. The museum also has about 40 World War II veterans who volunteer as guides.
While not all of us can be there at the museum Nov. 11 to have a World War II veteran at our elbow, giving us his personal experience about the Battle of the Bulge or D-Day, or Guadalcanal -- what we can do is seek aging veterans out in our neighborhoods.
We can take them to one of the restaurants that offer veterans free meals on Nov. 11. We can thank them for their service and lend them an ear.
Their stories are worth taking the time to hear. They are indeed tales of courage, teamwork, service, and sacrifice, as Mueller points out.
"It's part of the whole American spirit that is still driving us forward today," he says, adding that it's all about the indomitable ability of Americans to come together in a pinch.