WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Library of Congress wants to collect the stories and recollections of World War I veterans, most of whom are past 100 years old, before it is too late.
The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 2,300 to 2,500 WWI veterans survive the war that ended with the armistice of Nov. 11, 1918.
The vets have stories to tell. Just before Veterans Day, Gus Streeter, 105, stood up from his wheelchair at a ceremony in Indianapolis and finally received the Purple Heart he earned when shrapnel slashed his legs on a battlefield in France. Fearing he would be sent home if he asked for help, Streeter, a pharmacist, treated himself.
President Jacques Chirac of France, which has 142 surviving Great War vets of its own, recently presented Streeter the Croix de Guerre, awarded for bravery.
Russell Buchanan, 101, of Watertown, Mass., served in the Navy in World War I and went to Europe with the Army's Yankee Division in World War II. To stay in shape, he walks two laps around a shopping mall every day.
Charles LaLond, 104, of Minot, N.D., never saw combat but had charge of 130 mules at Camp Grant, Ill.
''I was boss over the whole works,'' he recalled on Veterans Day. Three days later, LaLond died.
On Sunday Harry Gunderson died at 103 in Silver City, N.M. During Gunderson's life, his bugle rang out ''Taps'' at 2,000 military funerals. Called up for Mexican border service in July 1916, he protected ranchers around Brownsville, Texas, from raids by Pancho Villa's forces. Gunderson served in France as a radio and telegraph operator.
The library plans to collect oral histories beginning Nov. 26. A team from the library's new Veterans History Project will take calls on a toll-free line, (888) 371-5848, from veterans and their friends.
''There is no more fitting way to show our gratitude to our nation than to preserve the memories of those who have served us in wartime,'' the project director, Ellen McCulluch-Lowell, said in a statement.
She asked everybody to take ''time during Thanksgiving to help identify willing World War I veterans in their communities.''
On the Web: Veterans History Project: http://lcweb.loc.gov/folklife/vets/
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