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Ken Burns and Library of Congress promote interviews of World War II veterans

Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns hopes his upcoming World War II series "The War" will generate an outpouring of interest in citizen interviews of veterans of that conflict.

Burns and the Public Broadcasting Service announced a partnership Tuesday with the Library of Congress' Veterans History Project to collect an oral history of war. Initiated by Congress in 2000, the project has collected the oral histories of more than 45,000 veterans who were interviewed by members of their families or communities about their service in U.S. wars.

"Our attention is currently focused especially on World War II veterans," Librarian of Congress James Billington said. They are of special concern because approximately 1,000 veterans of that war are dying each day, he said.

"We are looking at a kind of hemorrhage of memory that we just cannot tolerate any more in the United States," Burns said. He predicted that the partnership will "multiply and amplify the stories that we are going to tell."

Burns contributed to a "field guide" for conducting veterans interviews, which includes tips on lighting and shooting video. He said this could encourage young people who do not know much about history, but are interested in shooting video, to contribute.

"All the people we interviewed in the film are people you could have had Thanksgiving with and maybe you did, and maybe next Thanksgiving you ought to stop before Uncle Charlie loosens his belt to watch the football game and ask him what he did when he was 17 or 18 or 19 years old," Burns said.

The documentary series will begin airing in September. In conjunction, PBS is sponsoring community outreach programs and events at more than 100 public broadcasting stations.

The documentary will focus on personal experiences through accounts of men and women from four towns: Waterbury, Connecticut; Mobile, Alabama; Sacramento, California; and Luverne, Minnesota.

The program has drawn criticism from an array of Hispanic groups because the 14-hour documentary does not include any Hispanics who served in the war. Burns and PBS President Paula Kerger announced earlier Tuesday that Hispanic documentarian Hector Galan would contribute to the documentary to address that criticism.

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