The Veterans History Project (VHP) at the Library of Congress collects and preserves the firsthand interviews and narratives of United States military veterans from World War I through the present. Comprised of oral histories, photographs, correspondence, journals, military documents, memoirs, and more, these collections document the personal stories of individual veterans.
This guide will introduce a selection of correspondence collections within VHP's holdings related to World War I veterans.VHP is a public participation program, and as such, this guide is not meant to be an exhaustive history of World War I, but rather to help you explore VHP's related collection materials, to assist users in navigating our online database, and provide some ideas for further research.
Use the navigation menu for this guide to read each veteran's story and learn more about their correspondence. To view the digitized correspondence items, follow the caption links. For more guidance on how to use the VHP's online database to search for related collections, please see the page "Additional Resources" section of this guide.
It has been more than a century since World War I ended, and this remoteness in time has presented challenges in the collection of firsthand narratives of military veterans from that era. Despite these challenges, VHP has—with the integral participation of family members and volunteers—been able to assemble more than 400 collections from veterans of World War I. These collections represent a treasure trove of personal insights into America’s participation in what is often considered to be the first “modern” war—a collision of technologically sophisticated militaries that produced killing on an industrialized scale.
Soldiers since ancient times have used letters as a means of communicating with loved ones and associates back home. Such correspondence is frequently focused on practical matters, containing business and financial information, or perhaps advice on the running of a farm. But it has also often been much more personal, focused on issues of family or love, sadness at the loss of comrades, or the individual’s darkest fears and brightest hopes. Servicemembers' correspondence can be particularly useful to researchers, as letters are contemporaneous accounts that contain intimate, specific details about one's experiences and thoughts - details that may be forgotten in a later recounting.
American servicemembers during World War I were encouraged to write home often, as leaders understood the value of regular communication with home. Senator John W. Weeks of Massachusetts, whose son served in World War I, also urged family members at home to write often:
“A letter from home to a boy at the front will make the muddy walls of the trenches seem less bleak, the routine of camp life less tedious, will cheer him when he is lonesome and homesick, make him a more courageous soldier, and although in a foreign land many miles from home he will know he is in the thoughts of the folks back home for whom he has gone 'over there' to fight.”
—Excerpted from a pamphlet from Senator John W. Weeks sent to military families
Edgar D. Andrews Collection, Veterans History Project
This guide is intended to introduce the correspondence collections from World War I veterans in VHP’s holdings. It covers only a small fraction of these collections, but the "Additional Resources" section of this guide also provides tips and ideas for searching VHP’s collections for other related collections of interest.