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Sharing World War II stories

FRIDAY, DEC. 7, 2007

After the Japanese attack on Dec. 7, 1941, Americans had a rallying cry: “Remember Pearl Harbor.”

For a generation, even those who weren’t at the battle would hear that phrase and remember where they were when they heard the news of the event that catapulted the country into a worldwide war.

Now, with an estimated 1,000 veterans of the war dying each day, the catch phrase for succeeding generations might be Remember Pearl Harbor, and Bataan, and Anzio and D-Day and any of the other military campaigns or the home-front struggles of the second world war.

The Public Broadcasting System, which earlier this year aired Ken Burns’ documentary “The War,” has combined with the Library of Congress to promote the Veterans History Project, which is collecting stories from the battlefields and the home front. It can be reached through the Internet at

Another Web site,, today is releasing a series of World War II photos and documents, as part of an effort to preserve stories of veterans. While some aspects of the site can be reached only through a subscription, many parts of it are free.

But families don’t need the Internet to record the experiences of a relative during World War II. A tape recorder or video camera is a plus, but all you really need is a pen and paper to take notes, and the ability to listen.

A few tips:

“Set aside enough time, and talk in a place where there will be few or no distractions.

“Remember that many veterans returned home and talked about the war to no one but other veterans for decades, because they felt that people who weren’t there couldn’t really understand some of the things they saw or did. As time passes, it’s easier for some veterans to tell their stories. Many say they didn’t tell their children about their experiences, and didn’t really talk about it until their grandchildren asked.

“Start slow, with where they were when the war started, and lead up to traumatic events like a major battle. Talk about what they did when the war ended, too.

“Don’t talk just about the horrors of war. Strange things, surprising things and even funny things happened to many soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen. They make some of the best stories for the family to keep.

“Remember that many things were different during the war, not just in the military but in everyday life. They’re part of the story, too.

The Spokesman-Review is also chronicling some stories in a monthly series, Voices of War, featuring veterans and their experiences. Obviously, in an area like the Inland Northwest that has a rich tradition of military service, we can’t tell everyone’s story, but to suggest a subject for a future profile, call (509) 459-5288, or (800) 789-0029, Ext. 5288, or e-mail


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