Weekly Columns

Arkansans have joined the effort to collect the stories of Natural State veterans and preserve them with the Veterans History Project (VHP), enabling future generations to learn from these courageous individuals. I was proud to congratulate the Librarian of Congress on the 20th anniversary of the VHP.

In 2000, Congress established the VHP to collect and retain the oral histories of our nation’s veterans. Since then, more than 111,000 veterans have shared their stories of their military experience for the project. It has become the largest oral history collection in the world, and it’s still growing.

In recognition of the 20th anniversary, the VHP celebrated and reignited relationships with Americans in a way that drew new audiences to the Library, brought attention to existing collections, and fostered relations with Members of Congress, organizations and nonprofits in an effort to expand its collection.

I’m pleased my staff could be part of the celebration and share how the VHP has impacted Arkansas. My office has partnered with the Library of Congress to ensure the experiences of Arkansas veterans become part of this archive. In the past five years, my office has conducted dozens of interviews, trained more than 1,200 Arkansans to participate and help spread the word about the importance of this program and the urgency to record these first-hand accounts.

Arlis Owens of North Little Rock, Arkansas was one of the first veterans interviewed by my office. He experienced some of the bloodiest battles of World War II including the D-Day invasion and the Battle of the Bulge. Sadly, Mr. Owens passed away in October 2020, but we are fortunate that his stories will live on for future generations thanks to this initiative.

The testimonies provided by Owens and each and every veteran are a powerful record of the realities of war and the extraordinary sacrifices ordinary individuals made in defense of our freedoms. These memories are links to our history as much as the veteran’s own story. These interviews have been just as rewarding for families, some of whom hear the hardships and unimaginable circumstances their loved one faced for the first time. 

As the son of a WWII waist gunner on B-17s, I didn’t hear my dad talk of his experiences during the war. I wish I had asked him more about that time in his life. My office is working to make sure that other families don’t have this same regret.

In addition to adding memories to the collection over these past two decades, the VHP has launched nearly 70 online exhibits that highlight many aspects of military life and veteran issues as well as special events to mark the important work veterans are doing across the nation. It has also initiated programs in support of veterans. That commitment is continuing into 2021. Early in the year, it will host a veteran farm panel to discuss farming as a viable, fulfilling and lucrative career for our military veterans to consider as they transition to civilian life.  

I’m pleased to acknowledge the ongoing enthusiasm for the VHP and encourage more people to join this initiative. Memorializing the unique experiences of our veterans is a great way to honor their service.