I am a Tombstone Tourist: someone who loves to wander cemeteries. I find it akin to visiting a museum: an opportunity to enjoy rarely seen sculpture, intricate carvings, and amazing architecture, all in a tranquil outdoor setting. This blog is about cemetery culture, art, history, issues of death, and genealogy - subjects of current relevance. I usually find something that intrigues me and makes me want to dig deeper. Care to join me? Read on...
Friday, November 10, 2017
Help Preserve Our Veteran’s Histories
President John F. Kennedy
President John F.
Kennedy said, “A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also
by the men it honors, the men it remembers.”
November 11 is Veteran’s
Day – a day set aside to honor all American veterans who have served in our
wars.But time is passing and each day
we lose more veterans, and their stories.
US Department of Veterans Affairs
According to US
Department of Veterans Affairs, the last WWI veteran died in 2012 at the age of
110. There are only 558,000 of the 16 million Americans who served in
World War II still alive. A million and a half Korean vets remain.
Surviving vets of Vietnam total 6.7 million while there are 7.13 million Gulf
War veterans alive, and 4.5 million who served during peacetime. These stats
are current as of September 2017. But how many veterans have we lost since then?
There are several
groups and organizations across the country that take these interviews and preserve them
for future generations. Here are just a few:
genealogy site is focusing on saving the stories of WWII veterans before it’s
too late. Millions of records were lost
in a fire in the National Personnel Records Center destroying about 80-100
pages per soldier. Information that included battles fought in, medals and honors
received, occupations held during the war, diseases and injuries suffered,
parental information, affidavits of character, photographs and letters from
commanding officers - all of the details that make a service record a story. Ancestry
provides a list of questions that can jump-start the conversation. All you have
to do is capture your WWII veteran’s reminisces on video (Please edit it down
to no longer than 4 minutes.) and upload it to the Ancestry site where it will
be included in a free collection for anyone to view.
It takes only one
person to start a movement and that is what 20-year-old Rishi Sharma is doing.
After graduating from high school, Sharma decided to try to preserve as many
veteran’s stories about WWII as he could. With 372 of those vets dying each
day, Sharma has his work cut out for him. Sharma began Heroes of the Second World War, a web site where the videos of these soldiers are available for
viewing. He also makes sure the veteran, and his or her family, have copies of
the interview. It takes between 4-6 hours to record an interview but Sharma
intends to interview at least one WWII vet each day until the last one is gone.
In 2000, Congress
created the Veterans History Project to preserve veteran’s personal stories. The
VHP maintains not only video stories but materials veterans and their families
donate including uniforms and medals. Each veteran has an individual web page that includes his or her
service history along with other information provided. Check out the FAQ page before
starting. Then visit the Participate page to take part in the project, and
print out the VHP field kit forms. Fill them out and submit the entire kit with
a video to the VHP for inclusion in the Library of Congress.
Witness to War is a
non-profit private preservation organization that records the digital stories
from veterans who served in all American wars. The interviews are then professionally
edited into 2 to 5 minute war stories and are available on the WTW web site for
viewing. The short format makes the interviews more interesting and
approachable to today’s media savvy generation. The organization has an
extensive collection of combat narratives - close to 1,500 interviews, and
counting. To request an interview visit the WTW web page.
If you know a U.S.
veteran, set a date, grab your questions and head out with your phone to
capture his or her story for posterity. More than 600 WWII vets die each day …
there’s no time like the present to get started.
My new book The Family Tree Cemetery Field Guide is now available at bookstores across the country. Click
here for book information.