Veterans share their stories

Jul 3, 2011 Issues: Veterans

As Americans gather to celebrate Independence Day, it is fitting that we remember those who have served in the armed forces.Without their sacrifices, all of us would not live as freely as we do. The stories of their service deserve to be shared and remembered.

For many years, my office has been involved in an effort at the Library of Congress to collect and preserve wartime stories called the Veterans History Project. It has been in existence for 10 years and is the largest oral history program of its kind in the nation.

The Veterans History Project collects firsthand accounts of the men and women who served our country. It is a living history: The stories are told by the veterans in their own words.

It doesn't matter if they were a buck private or a general, all these men and women made a contribution to our nation. Each story is important. These are the unvarnished stories of ordinary people who saw and did extraordinary things.

Many stories from our area have been filmed by Dan Brightwell of the Southfield Veterans' Commission and a Vietnam War veteran.He and his colleagues at the commission have recorded more than 200 interviews, which are sent to my office and passed on to the Veterans History Project.

In one, a World War II veteran from Detroit describes the perils of clearing the beach for the Allied invasion of Normandy and the sacrifices of those killed and wounded in the operation.He tells of his experience as a radioman on D-Day and recounts what he experienced as his unit was sprayed with bullets and tracers as they tried to reach shore and establish a beachhead.

We teach our children history. Like so many others who have shared their stories with the Veterans History Project, this hero has been part of history. He is among more than 75,000 veterans who have participated in the history project over the last 10 years. The Library of Congress recently digitized its 10,000th veterans' collection online. These stories can all be viewed at the Veterans History Project website.

Among the staff favorites in my office is an interview given by a World War II veteran from the Detroit area, retired Lt. Colonel Alexander Jefferson. He trained in the Army Air Corps at Selfridge and was a member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen.

His gripping interview describes some of the 18 combat missions he flew in Europe and his experiences after being shot down in southern France and imprisoned in a German POW camp. Jefferson's video is still awaiting digitalization at the Veterans History Project, but we've provided a link to it on my office website.

The men and women who have served in our nation's armed forces have done so much to help preserve the liberties and freedoms we all enjoy.

We must preserve and share their stories.