Ken Burns is the creator of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen (no slight to Michael Moore – I still love Roger and Me almost 20 years after I first watched it). If you haven’t seen his award-winning work on the Civil War, Jazz, Jack Johnson and Baseball, you are missing out. I recommend going to a video store and renting them (and the many other documentaries he’s done) if you can.
Anyway, Burns has an upcoming WWII special (the pic on the right is part of it – courtesy of the National Archives), The War, and he needs the public’s help. He has partnered with PBS and the Library of Congress to encourage the "YouTube generation" to find stories from real people about WWII. They are asking people to create video tapes of their grandparents, great-grandparents, even neighbors, who served in or remember the war. The tapes will be made a permanent part of the Veteran’s History Project collection.
It’s an innovative use of the web; the popularity of YouTube and sites like it will certainly give Burns access to information and people he wouldn’t have otherwise known about. Estimates are that there are about 2.9 million living WWII veterans. Those 2.9 million represent a huge amount of stories and history that will be lost forever if not recorded.
In USA Weekend, Burns talked about why he is working with PBS and the Library of Congress on the Veteran’s History Project. "When I made my Civil War documentary, participants were obviously long dead. But World War II remains very much alive in the memories of millions of Americans. These stories are the building blocks, the DNA of our collective American experience. From these memories, we shape that thing we call history," Burns said.
So, if you know someone who fought in WWII or even worked back here as part of the home front war effort, get out a camera and start recording. You can get more info about the project at www.loc.gov/vets/vets-home.html or www.pbs.org/thewar.
One of the things I love most about the web is how it connects people. I think it’s great that Burns, PBS and the Library of Congress are taking advantage of technology and trends to connect people through storytelling. A sad note about WWII vets is that an estimated 1,000 are dying every day. Recording the stories of these brave and often silent (it’s a known fact that most WWII vets didn’t talk about their experiences) will give us all a look into history from those who actually lived it. Who knows, we might even learn a thing or two so we can avoid WWIII…
I sure hope so.