Project honors nation’s veterans by documenting stories

Published 10:17 pm Friday, November 21, 2008

It was more than 90 years ago that an ordinary young kid named Frank Buckles reported to Fort Riley, Kansas for his first assignment in the U.S. Army. We were a nation at war, and strong-willed Buckles was determined to serve his country. Buckles was 16-years-old when he chose to be trained as a medic ambulance driver — ambulance drivers were needed in France and being a driver meant a quick ticket overseas. For two years, Buckles served in France, spending time in St. Andre de Cubzac, Basens, and Bordeaux. When he returned to the U.S., Buckles was discharged at Camp Pike, Arkansas with a payment of $143.90 and a $60 bonus. He was only 18-years-old.

Today, that ordinary young kid named Frank Buckles is creating history. At 107 years old, he remains the last surviving American veteran of World War I.

Many of us can hardly imagine the experience of serving on the frontlines on behalf of the greatest nation this world has ever birthed. Instead, we rely on the narratives and experiences of veterans such as Frank Buckles to bring us understanding of what they have done for our country and what it meant to serve during those historic moments of triumph and loss. Personal recollections like these are priceless to us as a nation.

Yet with every year that passes, the first-hand accounts of these chapters in our nation’s history are slowly vanishing. As the last surviving World War I veteran, Frank Buckles is the only living link to that portion of our history; his story fragile and invaluable. It is also one of the thousands that have been given to the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project.

The heart of the Veterans History Project is to capture the personal experiences of our nation’s veterans so that we can continue to honor, study, and appreciate those who have sacrificed so much for our great nation, even after they have left us.

Through written narratives, memoirs, old photographs, recorded interviews, personal documents and old correspondence, the Veterans History Project is helping to secure this pivotal portion of our nation’s history, one veteran at a time.

Thousands of veterans from around the country have participated — many at the urging of family and friends — by dusting off old trunks of memories and wading through seas of boxes and papers in their attics to bring together the personal stories that represent their generations.

This month we celebrated Veterans Day, a day set aside to honor those who have offered their lives and service for the love of their country. On that day, we are given the opportunity to simply say “thank you” to all those who have served our country. Projects like the Veterans History Project provide us an additional opportunity to honor and remember our veterans, and to encapsulate the experiences of the vanishing generations.

Their stories are available in a Veterans History Project database available online at

Here, visitors can search through thousands of veterans’ stories to hear oral histories, read personal memoirs, and find veterans’ service information such as unit numbers and service locations.

To date, more than 800 national, state and local organizations have been named Official Partners of the Veterans History Project and countless individuals have participated — grandchildren interviewing grandparents, students talking with veterans in their communities, and museums and civic groups starting their own projects.

Please join me in helping to ensure that the stories of the vanishing generations are preserved in this important project. If you are a member of a veterans association, military installation, library or museum, encourage your organization to become an Official Partner by agreeing to assist in promoting the project, encouraging volunteers, and developing public programs that support the program’s objectives.

If you know a war veteran please consider interviewing him or her for this important national project.

Instructions and guidelines for your participation are available at my Web site, , or by calling the Veterans History Project at 1-888-371-5848.

President John F. Kennedy once said that “a nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces, but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.”

As a nation, it is our privilege to continually honor our nation’s finest men and women in uniform.