Weekly Columns

Richard Parkins earned a Bronze Star for his heroic service during WWII. He doesn’t volunteer this information because he doesn’t believe his actions justified this recognition, but if you ask the right questions, he’ll humbly tell you about his effort that earned him this honor. 

“We were in Anzio and the Germans had the high ground and complete observation of any movement on the beach. All of our forces were in old buildings or bombed buildings but they could hide, well when we lost communication with one of our four platoons, someone had to go and fix it and two of us volunteered and had to go across about a mile of open field under observation. Had the Germans been looking we would have been prime targets. We were lucky enough to get all the way to the frontline to the trenches and fix the problem,” Parkins recently recalled. 

Parkins shared his recollections of his service in the Army with my staff for submission to the Veterans History Project (VHP). This is an effort by the Library of Congress to collect and retain the oral histories of our nation’s veterans so that future generations can hear directly from them to better understand the realities of war. 

Most of us can’t imagine the experiences that Parkins and other WWII veterans of the Greatest Generation endured on the frontlines. There is an urgency to capturing the memories of our WWII veterans like Parkins. According to VA data complied by the National World War II Museum, we’re losing 492 WWII veterans a day. Less than 856,000 American veterans of the 16 million who served in World War II are still alive. 

Hearing first-hand accounts of their service and sacrifice that helped defeat tyranny and shape the future for citizens across the world is important to recognizing their commitment to our country. Personal reflections offer an understanding of our history and the men and women who defend our freedoms. 

With more than 96,000 stories from American veterans, the VHP collection is home to the largest oral history archive in the U.S. 

These histories are compiled through audio- or video-recorded interviews, in addition to original correspondence, photographs, maps and diaries to forever memorialize our veterans in history. The interviews are accessible on the Library of Congress’s website at http://www.loc.gov/vets/. Hearing first-person accounts of war from those who lived through it is unforgettable. Their stories show the reality of war and the selfless dedication of our veterans. 

I’m proud of the work my office is doing to preserve these living histories. My staff has hosted three workshops to train people interested in helping with this project, and there has been great response from volunteers and veterans who want to tell their stories. 

As we celebrate Veterans Day, a day set aside to honor those who have sacrificed their lives in service for our country, capturing and preserving their memories is a great way to honor their service and commitment. This day is a great opportunity to thank our veterans in this meaningful way.