I was having a conversation with someone last night who noted how many of the images I have used recently on the blog have come from the Library of Congress. I try to mix up the sources, but indeed most of the best photographs for recent posts have come from the LOC’s extensive collections. As a librarian myself, I understand how valuable these resources are to our nation. Not only have I used the library’s image collections, I have utilized the Library of Congress manuscript collections for my book projects as well. And the best thing is, with the internet at our fingertips many of these resources are available to us regardless of where we live or work. They do such a great job, we almost–almost–take it all for granted. Well today I had the good fortune to go with the Hayfoot to the Jefferson Building to see Echoes of the Great War: American Experiences of World War I. The curators did a fine job not just discussing the battles, but the economic, political, and social consequences of the war as well. With our country facing so many issues and uncertainties in our own historical moment, it is comforting to know that we as a nation have weathered times of uncertainty in the past. The challenges vary only in the details.
It is hard to believe the the World War I Centennial Commission Trade Show was three years ago this week, and right here in Washington D.C. no less. Approaching others is not something that comes easily to me, but I made certain at that event to talk to the representatives at every table. I remember having discussions with staff from various museums and cultural institutions, including some people from the Library of Congress’s Veterans History Project of the American Folklife Center. The friend with whom I was speaking last night lost his father, a veteran, not long ago. His father was buried in a military cemetery in a Southern state. I was telling my friend that waiting for my bus in Manhattan yesterday morning I struck up a conversation with a man wearing a WW2 cap. He too was waiting for the bus and was headed to Bethesda to see his daughter and her family, presumably for Father’s Day Weekend. Over our coffees I asked him if he had fought in Europe or the Pacific and he said Europe. He said he was nineteen when he entered the war, which would put him now in his early 90s. He looked more like seventy-five at the oldest. I told him I wrote my master thesis on Dwight Eisenhower and he told me he met the general one time. Eisenhower had come to speak to his unit of about 100 men to explain in person why their transport ship home would be delayed for a week. I know my WW2 well enough to know that troop transport delays homeward immediately after V-E Day were a major snag, though I didn’t say that to the veteran that at the coffee shop. Hearing the man tell the story was an incredible experience I will never forget.
I say all this because I noticed in the outstanding exhibit today that the curators incorporated a good deal of material from the Veterans History Project into Echoes of the Great War. Frank Buckles was the last of the American WW1 veterans, and he himself died over six years ago. If you have a chance, make sure to check out the Library of Congress’s outstanding Echoes of the Great War, which runs through January 2019.