This year, The National World War II Museum marked Nov. 11, Veterans Day, with a call to ears, not arms. Museum historians and curators are urging young Americans and their parents to reach out to the aging veterans of that conflict to hear their stories and learn from the wisdom of the men and women who fought and won the war that changed the world.
“America’s families need to hear the stories of our Greatest Generation,” says Dr. Gordon “Nick” Mueller, president and CEO of the New Orleans-based Museum. “These citizen soldiers were witnesses to one of history’s most momentous events, and they have much to convey about courage, teamwork, service, and sacrifice, especially to our younger generations. We need to hear them now because there’s not much time left to listen.”
The sense of urgency is due to a grim calendar. Americans who actively participated in World War II are now mostly in their 80s and 90s. War veterans are dying at the rate of 797 a day, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. An estimated 291,176 vets will die this year, and the Museum is trying to get Americans to meet and talk to these exemplars of living history before they are gone.
Someone who has taken the Museum’s mission to heart is James Letten, a 17-year-old high school student from Metairie, La. On Saturdays, he volunteers at The National World War II Museum. For the past two years, he and his father Jim, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana, have worked alongside veterans restoring PT-305. The boat, a major artifact in the Museum’s collection, was built by Higgins Industries in New Orleans in 1943 and saw service in the Mediterranean Theater.
“I think it’s extremely important for America’s teenagers to hear the stories of World War II veterans, so that they see past today’s media portrayal of the War,” says James. “The stories you hear aren’t just ‘stories,’ they’re bits and pieces of a life that was nearly sacrificed for our freedom. Listening to them, I understand the hardships our country once endured.”
“For many youngsters, the Museum brings something as far away and abstract like the War to life,” says Jim. “Working side by side with men who served in World War II and getting to talk to these living heroes enables James to view history in a whole different light.”
To help facilitate encounters between families like the Lettens and World War II veterans, the Museum’s curators list six ways Americans and their children can “talk to living history.” “Not all veterans want to talk about their experiences,” says education director Kenneth Hoffman, “But many do, and the following tips will help teachers and families find veterans who will share their stories with younger Americans.”
- Talk to a family member who served in WWII. Tape or record his or her recollections.
- Ask your friends and neighbors if they have family members who served and who might want to talk about it with your family or a small group of interested people.
- Reach out to local VFW posts, American Legion chapters, and Veterans Administration Hospitals. They may know of veterans willing to speak about their experience or suggest ways to volunteer to help veterans.
- Inquire at your place of worship about members who may be WWII veterans. After services, a church or a synagogue resource room is often a convenient place to meet.
- Remember the home front. It wasn’t just the men in uniforms who won the war. Millions of women worked in defense plants across the country and still have vivid memories of living with blackouts, Victory Gardens and rationing.
- Visit the National World War II Museum. The New Orleans campus is filled with artifacts, large and small. Most importantly, many of the docents are World War II veterans who will answer your questions.Additional information can be found at the Museum’s website, www.nationalww2museum.org. “Talking to WWII veterans and thanking them for their service to our country, and perhaps recording their story, is a memorable experience for your family,” says Mueller. “Years from now, your children will still remember this once-in-a-lifetime encounter with a real American hero and hearing the veteran’s first-person account of history.” The National World War II Museum tells the story of the American Experience in the war that changed the world – why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today.Dedicated in 2000 as The National D-Day Museum and now designated by Congress as America’s National World War II Museum, it celebrates the American spirit, the teamwork, optimism, courage and sacrifice of the men and women who fought on the battlefront and served on the Home Front.
For more information, call 877-813-3329 or 504-527-6012 or visit www.nationalww2museum.org. Follow the Museum on Twitter at WWIImuseum (http://twitter.com/WWIImuseum) or visit their Facebook page.