May 26, 2003

Aging Veterans and the Library of Congress

With WW2 veterans dying every day, the Library of Congress
has embarked on an ambitious project to collect the wartime memories of ordinary people. Aging Veterans tell their stories for posterity Gregg Zoroya of USA TODAY writes

    Under the gentle prodding of an adult son, Bill Pendergast's wartime memories spilled out like faded snapshots a half-century old. Settled into a dining room chair, comforted by the eagerness of his listener, Pendergast, 71, began sharing Korean War recollections: the ice-cold Coca-Cola someone handed him when the Army first lobbied him to join its Counterintelligence Corps; the battle-scarred South Korea cityscape with not ''two panes of glass still in one piece'' in the city of Seoul; and the prisoners he was required to interrogate. ''Most of the interrogations were of young Chinese or North Korean men just as scared as I was,'' Pendergast said. Hostilities ended the year he was there, 1953.

    His recorded words have been shipped to the Library of Congress), making the Pendergasts participants in one of the broadest national efforts to preserve eyewitness accounts of Americans serving in war. It seeks the stories of those who served in World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf.

    And unlike many academic efforts, in which historians or trained researchers conduct the interviews, the Library of Congress enlists sons, daughters, friends and students to do the work......

    ''People don't think about history until it's about to be gone,'' says Sarah Rouse, a senior program officer with the Library of Congress Veterans History Project.

    And time is running out. Jim Parkel, president of the 35 million-member AARP, says that although an estimated 19 million men and women who are veterans of American wars are alive today, they are dying at the rate of 1,600 a day. With their passing, he says, ''you are losing a history that is very important.''....

    The Library of Congress program, barely two years old, may be the most ambitious effort both in scope -- covering every major American war of the 20th century -- and in method, appealing to the public for broad participation. It also carries the imprimatur of a government project within the nation's largest and most prestigious library.

    Partially financed by a $3 million AARP grant and supported and promoted by chapters in that organization and service groups like Veterans of Foreign Wars, the program focuses on gathering oral histories as well as photographs, letters and war diaries.

    A Web site ( offers start-up kits with sample questions and guidelines: ''Find a quiet, well-lit room to use for the interview. Avoid rooms with fluorescent lights, chiming clocks, or heating and cooling systems that are noisy. . . . Try to keep your questions short. Avoid complicated, multipart questions.''

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:43 PM | Permalink

Women and Horses

Russell J. Larsen wrote his own epitaph for his grave in Logan City Cemetery
Logan, Utah and it's hard to beat:

    Two things I love most, good horses and beautiful women, and when I die I hope they tan this old hide of mine and make it into a ladies riding saddle, so I can rest in peace between the two things I love most.

More at The Epitaph Browser

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:29 PM | Permalink