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Veterans History Project

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

Gerald "Jerry" Sorensen, of Pocatello, Idaho, was a 24-year-old U.S. Air Force gunner who was aboard a B-17 brought down by German fire in Nazi-occupied Belgium during World War II. Jerry Sorensen survived the downing, was hidden by the Abeels family of Ganshoren, near Brussels, and joined the Belgian resistance fighting against the Germans. In 1944, Belgium was liberated, and Jerry was killed by German soldiers leaving Belgium. The Abeels' also lost their oldest son, Roger Abeels, who died with Jerry Sorensen.

Earlier this year, a national radio network featured Jerry Sorensen's story and his and other U.S. service members' "isolated graves." Jerry Sorensen was buried in the Ganshoren cemetery next to Roger Abeels, and reportedly remains there at the request of his family. The story of Jerry Sorensen is intriguing for many reasons. This is a story of great heroism. Jerry Sorensen was an American hero who did not give up when his plane was downed. He persevered through considerable obstacles, avoided capture and continued to fight. The Abeels' immense bravery in taking in a U.S. service member at enormous personal risk, death, is also stirring. Additionally, this is a story of great friendship. Jerry and Roger continue to be honored in Ganshoren by members of the Abeels family and a community grateful for their contribution.

As we celebrate this Veterans Day by thanking our nation's veterans for defending our freedoms, Jerry Sorensen's story is also a reminder of the many other inspiring stories of U.S. veterans. I introduced a resolution, S. Res. 670, which designates the week of Veterans Day as Veterans History Project week and encourages people to interview veterans to enable the collection and preservation of veterans' wartime stories. The Senate passed this resolution by unanimous consent. This year, is the 10th anniversary of Congress' establishment of the Veterans History Project.

The Library of Congress' American Folklife Center commenced with the project and has been engaging the public with establishing the collection of veterans' oral histories. The success of the project is dependent on volunteer interviewers recording stories freely shared by veterans. More than 70,000 histories have been collected, and many of the accounts are accessible on the Library of Congress' website at Veterans have provided personal reports of events in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War and the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts. The site also contains guidelines for conducting interviews and submitting stories to the project.

Most Americans have a general understanding of war, but most of these accounts are received through media sound bites and briefings or sensationalized video games. Rarely, do we have opportunities to hear first-hand accounts that impress the emotional toll, reality of war and the great value of each of our nation's veterans. We have so much to learn from our nation's veterans. They witnessed pivotal times in our nation's history. Their dedication to defending our freedoms, their immense sacrifices and their examples of great courage and comradery are inspirational. Many of us have family members and friends who have served. This Veteran's Day provides an opportune time to interview veterans who want to share their stories. We may learn something new and remarkable about loved ones and friends. Preservation of their invaluable accounts is enlightening and a fitting tribute of gratitude.

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