Interview a Vet

February 13th, 2007

I first became interested in interviewing veterans after watching a television interview with Stephen Ambrose, in which he described the Veteran’s History Project , an ongoing effort sponsored by the Library of Congress to collect first-hand accounts from veterans of 20th century conflicts. The need for this effort, according to Ambrose, is great since we are “currently losing World War II veterans at a rate of 1,100 to 1,500 a day.”I found that rate astonishing. I thought about the veterans I know, many who served in Vietnam and the Gulf War, and some who fought in Korea and World War II. I found it strange to think that one day they would all be gone, and that I would soon live in a time in which there were no remaining veterans of World War II. Likewise, my kids would someday read an article about that the few remaining Vietnam vets gathering for some type of ceremony. I thought that volunteering might not only be an incredibly satisfying experience, but would also (at least in a small way) serve the interests of future generations who will want to know more about our involvement, and hear the oral history accounts of the men and women who served. Ambrose went on to explain, and I’m paraphrasing now, “Just think about how wonderful it would be if today we were able to hear Lee’s or Washington’s accounts of the events that surrounded them.” I joined the effort, and can honestly say it has been a wonderful experience.

What is it?

The mission of the Veteran’s History Project is to collect and preserve first-hand accounts of U.S. veterans of the following 20th Century wars:

* World War I (1914-1920)
* World War II (1939-1946)
* Korean War (1950-1955)
* Vietnam War (1961-1975)
* Persian Gulf War (1990-1995)

Here’s the intro text from the Veteran’s History Project website (

“There are 19 million war veterans living in the United States today, but every day we lose 1,500 of them. Motivated by a desire to honor our nation’s war veterans for their service and to collect their stories and experiences while they are still among us, the United States Congress created the Veterans History Project… Public Law 106-380 calls upon the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress to collect and preserve audio- and video-taped oral histories, along with documentary materials such as letters, diaries, maps, photographs, and home movies, of America’s war veterans and those who served in support of them… Knowing that this and future generations of Americans have much to learn from those who served, we at the Library of Congress and the American Folklife Center have embraced this national effort. We encourage you to read the information and instructions on this Web site and to join us in making the Veterans History Project a success. The Veteran’s History Project needs volunteers to conduct interviews with veterans of the 20th century.”

How do I get involved?

It is very simple to participate. First, you need to find a veteran willing to be interviewed for the project. Talk to friends and relatives who might know of a willing participant. If you don’t know any personally, there are many organizations that can put you in contact with veterans, including state chapters of Veteran’s of Foreign Wars (VFW), the American Legion, AMVETS, Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Japanese American Veterans Association, Vietnam Veterans Association, Military Chaplains Association, The Retired Enlisted Association, and the Women Airforce Service Pilots of WWII. Next, you can request an interview kit via an online form at the Veteran’s History Projext website (, or download the forms directly from there. For information on actually performing, recording, organizing, and submitting your interviews, there is a guide on the website as well.

If you’re already involved, drop me a note at and let me know if you have a cool interview to post on Think About It.

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