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Online projects honor veterans

Katie Donnelly

In light of Veterans Day, today we are highlighting three public media projects that honor our veterans.

Until fairly recently, if you wanted to search through thousands of wartime documents, you would most likely have to physically visit Washington, D.C. Certainly, there would be no other way to visit the Vietnam Memorial. Now, Web 2.0 technologies have made both accessible anywhere, and have provided opportunities for users to not just interact with but, in some cases, respond to veterans' stories.

The Interactive Vietnam Veterans Memorial is a project from Footnote.com and the National Archives. (The Washington Times is also listed as a media partner.) Released last year, 26 years after the Vietnam Memorial Wall was built, this virtual version allows users to view individual soldiers' stories by searching by name, enlistment type, branch of service or hometown. Each name includes links to related historical documents (such as service records, casualty reports, photographs and news items). In addition, users can also leave their own tributes (including videos and photos) for any of the 58,256 killed or MIA Vietnam veterans.

This CNN video explains how the virtual wall works and what some Vietnam vets think of it:

For veterans of a more recent war, Penn State just offered a course called "Narrative, Oral History, New Media Technologies" in the Spring of 2009. Student veterans who enrolled in the course used video production and Web 2.0 tools in order to chronicle their experiences with the current war in Iraq. The result was Back from Iraq: The Veterans Stories Project, a series of student-produced videos focusing on veteran experiences. In addition to featuring four of the students' projects, the project site includes interviews with the students from the beginning and the end of the course. Project partners included Penn State Public Broadcasting, the Penn State English Department and the Public Service Media Initiative at WPSU, with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's (CPB) Public Media Innovation Fund.

For more information on the Back from Iraq project, see this video promo:

According to the project's website:

The story of the Iraq War we usually hear concerns generals and diplomats, and is told by experts and professional journalists. The voices of veterans themselves are too often missing from the discussion. This course was designed to provide veterans with the tools they needed to find and effectively tell the stories that mattered to them.


In addition to student-created films, the course emphasized the use of blogs to spur discussion inside and out of class. Viewers are also encouraged to share their own stories and experiences with the war here.

Lastly, there is the Veterans History Project, an initiative from the Library of Congress' American Folklife Center that "collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war." The collection currently includes over 65,000 individual wartime accounts, including personal narratives, correspondence, and images such as photographs, drawings, and scrapbooks. These stories encompass seven wars, spanning from World War I up through the present wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Citizen volunteers and partner organizations from around the country help to collect and record the stories.

This project was bolstered significantly in 2007 through a partnership with PBS and Florentine Films related to Ken Burns' The War. During that year, PBS stations around the country participated in raising awareness about the need to preserve the stories of World War II veterans before that generation passes. Many local stations encouraged World War II veterans to share their stories through an online tool called StoryShare. Additionally, local affiliates videotaped over 1,000 interviews with World War II veterans to contribute to the database. The Veterans History Project also published an online Viewer's Companion to The War that included hundreds of related historic items.

Users can search the Veterans History Project's expansive database here and watch, read, and/or listen to featured individual veterans' stories here. Those who wish to participate in the project (including veterans, interviewers and people wishing to donate veterans' collections) can find information on how to join the effort here.

Want to learn more about Public Media 2.0? Read our white paper: Public Media 2.0: Dynamic, Engaged Publics.