Decorated World War II veteran Bernard Rader, of Freeport, endured nearly two months of German captivity in France before he was one of 149 Allied prisoners of war involved in an unprecedented November 1944 exchange negotiated by Andrew Gerow Hodges, a Red Cross field director. For his service, Rader was awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart and France’s Legion of Honor. His compelling story is just one of the thousands of stories being collected by the Veterans History Project of the American Folklife Center in an effort to preserve the personal accounts of American war veterans for future generations.
That project is now at the Freeport Memorial Library. Librarians Nicole Digirolamo and Eileen Sullivan, who are involved with the project, are hoping that local veterans will take advantage of this opportunity to record their recollections of their wartime experiences.
“We want our veterans to know that they are remembered. We are interested in their stories,” Digirolamo said. “What they did mattered.”
“When I speak with some of my older relatives about their experiences it really opens my eyes to the past,” Sullivan added. “I see this [project] as an opportunity to capture history first-hand. Hearing these first-hand accounts is very moving.”
The United States Congress created the Veterans History Project in 2000. Legislation for this project received unanimous support from both houses and was signed into law on Oct, 27, 2000, by President Clinton.
According to its website, the Veterans History Project comprises over 68,000 individual collections at the Library of Congress. Of that number, more than 7,000 are digitized and are accessible online through the VHP website.
But more work needs to be done.
“The average age of a World War II veteran is 92,” Digirolamo said. “Korean vets are also older. We are losing these stories; now is the time to hear them.”
“This is local history in the truest sense,” Sullivan added. “Each story is unique.”