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Veterans' Memories of War Making History

The Arizona Republic (Phoenix, Arizona) , August 2, 2006


The U.S. Marines rationed him two beers a day. It's a detail Ken Kurkowski remembered about serving in Vietnam. He recalled war protesters spitting on him at the San Francisco airport and barely escaping death when his tank exploded.

The veteran poured everything - the bloodshed, the wild nights, the letters to his girlfriend - onto 106 pages.

Within a year, the Library of Congress will make his memoir a piece of American history.

Congress launched the Veterans History Project in 2000. It collects oral and written histories, photos and video interviews from veterans, Red Cross workers, United Service Organizations members and others involved in American war efforts. The stories stretch from World War II to Iraq. This year, thousands more will add stories to the ongoing project. Selected histories are digitized on the project's Web site, in the form of multimedia scrapbooks.

"Our mission is not necessarily to collect histories from notable war heroes but your everyday man and woman. We want the collection to be reflective of what the average person went through," said project spokeswoman Anneliesa Clump Behrend. Now, class organizer Bill Kummer is recruiting a younger generation of veterans to record their stories. He and Kurkowski hope soldiers returning from the Middle East sign up.

"I think that the guys in Iraq, when they get back, should really write their story while it's fresh in their minds. Forty years later, it gets a little hard," Kurkowski said.

Subjects Covered: education, personal storytelling

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