The American Veterans Center, a non-profit educational organization located in Arlington, Virginia, preserves and promotes the legacy and experiences of America’s veterans and active duty service personnel from World War II through today. On August 10, 2010, HistoryNet spoke with AVC’s executive director, Tim Holbert.
HistoryNet.com: There are many veterans’ organizations across the country. What is unique about the American Veterans Center?
Tim Holbert: We’re really dedicated to providing veterans with a forum to present their experiences, get them out to the public and preserve them. Nearly all of our efforts center around that.
HN: How did you come to be AVC’s executive director?
TH: I came to the Washington, D.C., area in 2003. I had a public policy background, but when I saw this organization—which was known as World War II Veterans Committee at the time—I thought it was doing something important. I started as its program director, but later my title was changed to executive director. In 2006 we refocused to include vets of today and changed our name to American Veterans Center.
HN: In 2005, AVC revived the tradition of a Memorial Day parade in Washington, D.C., something that hadn’t been done there since the era of the Great Depression. In 2009, nearly 300,000 spectators came to the event. Can you tell us a bit about why there was no such parade in the nation’s capital for over 70 years, and why AVC chose to revive the tradition?
TH: We can’t say exactly why there wasn’t one. We see news reports from papers back in the 1920s and into the ’30s that mention Memorial Day parades there, but they just seem to have faded out.
In 2004, the dedication of the World War II Memorial was held on Memorial Day weekend. A couple of people approached the memorial committee about holding a parade, but they had too much on their plates just organizing the dedication, so we got involved. That first parade in 2004 was called A Parade Salute to World War II Veterans. After it was over, we looked around and asked, why don’t we have a parade in Washington on Memorial Day? Mayor Anthony Williams encouraged us to make it an annual tradition. He was in the 2004 parade and every one after that throughout his term. He was very supportive in getting it started.
HN: Isn’t AVC organizing a Veterans Reunion event that will bring together US vets from World War II to the ongoing Global War on Terror? What can you tell us about that reunion?TH: That’s our big annual conference, held over Veterans Day Weekend every year here in Washington, D.C. We bring together some of the most celebrated veterans, such as the Doolittle Raiders, Medal of Honor recipients, Gen. David Petraeus, Buzz Aldrin, wounded vets from Iraq and Afghanistan—we get a wide cross-section to share their experiences.
These events are open to the public. We bring in JROTC, ROTC, Midshipmen Cadets, and others—these vets are kind of their role models—but anyone can come out and meet these folks. We have different receptions where people will get a chance to mingle with our guests. Our tag line is, “Celebrate Veterans Day in the Company of Heroes.”
It’s my favorite event of what we do because we bring together vets from 18, or 19 years old up to World War II veterans. It’s been held at different locations, but for this year and the foreseeable future, we’ll be hosting it at the U.S. Navy Memorial, which is a great venue.
HN: Among the tabs on the organization’s Website are AVC Audio and AVC Video. What is featured on those?
TH: On the audio side, we grew out of a radio series called World War II Chronicles that ran on Radio America in the 1990s. Each weekly broadcast was a short look back at that week in World War II history. It used a lot of archival material. That program was very successful, and it inspired Jim Roberts to start the World War II Veterans Committee. We have a long history of partnering with Radio America, and currently have a program called Veterans Chronicles, and one called Profiles of Valor, which I host, that features young vets from Iraq and Afghanistan.
On the video side, we bring in professional camera crews to film our presenters at the annual conference. We post to the Website that so that people who can’t attend the conference can see the presentations.
We also put parade on our Website and on YouTube so people can see it who didn’t get to attend and missed the broadcast of it. (The parade is televised locally but also nationally on the Military Channel and the Pentagon Channel.)
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HN: In addition to preserving and presenting veterans’ stories in several ways, including podcasts of interviews and online postings of personal memories of veterans and their families, you also publish American Valor Quarterly, which contains first-hand accounts from World War II to the present. Why is AVC so heavily involved in preserving these memories?
TH: You know, the timing is so important right now. This would be a massively important program regardless, but the World War II veterans, the World War II generation, is rapidly disappearing. Its not a program you can wait 10 years to finish up or get back to. The same is true for veterans of the Korean War and even the Vietnam War. It is important to give a voice to their stories. What we record is out there for people to access so the stories will live on even after the veterans are gone.
HN: Since we’re talking about memories, what are a couple of memories of the AVC’s activities that really stand out for you?TH: That’s a tough question. A lot really stand out. One thing we’re obviously proud of is bringing back the parade. The 2004 parade began at 8 a.m. on Monday morning, and it was raining that day. There were probably more people in the parade than watching it. Then, to turn that around so that in five years we have hundreds of thousands of people attending, thousands participating; to have the parade carried on television via The Military Channel and to have participants like the actors Gary Sinise, Joe Mantegna, and World War II veterans Mickey Rooney and Ernest Borgnine is phenomenal.
For me personally, the best memories have to be meeting some of the great veterans of previous years. Being able to call members of the Doolittle Raiders friends. We interviewed Frank Buckle, the last surviving World War I vet. The young veterans from Iraq & Afghanistan, who are really outstanding, the best we have to offer—getting to know people like these are my greatest memories.
HN: Thanks for talking with HistoryNet. Is there anything you’d like to add?
TH: I think we pretty well covered it. The American Veterans Center really is all about preserving the stories, the memories “From the Greatest Generation to the Latest Generation,” as we like to say. I think it’s really important to do that now. With World War II, Korea, and Vietnam vets, plus what’s going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, now is a really important time to be doing this. The Library of Congress has been able to record a lot of these stories with its Veterans Project, too.
We’ve been able to record memories of “everyday vets,” not just the famous ones. In October, we’ll be coming out with a book of these stories called Home of the Brave, which we’re producing in partnership with Harris Connect. We’ll also have an online version for forums where vets or their family members will be able to submit their photos, bios and stories.
To learn more and to read, hear and view some of the veterans’ stories that have preserved, visit the American Veterans Center Website.
Gerald D. Swick is senior Web editor for the World History Group.