About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks for "From the Trenches of WWI to the November 2016 Elections: Race Relations in America"

McGowan Theater, National Archives Building, Washington, DC
November 9, 2016

Good evening, and welcome to the National Archives. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and I’m glad you could join us for tonight’s program—whether you are here in the William G. McGowan Theater or watching on YouTube.

We’re here to learn about race relations in American, particularly in the military during the two world wars, and the efforts today to posthumously award Medals of Honor to those who were denied this honor due to their race.

Our partner tonight is the U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress, which has worked with us on thought-provoking programs for the several years, and I thank them for their continued support.

Before we begin, I’d like to let you know about two programs coming up here next week.

On Tuesday, November 15, at noon, James Conroy, author of Lincoln’s White House: The People’s House in Wartime, will talk about the White House during President Lincoln’s administration. Drawing on primary sources, Conroy takes the reader on a behind-the-scenes tour that provides new insight into how Lincoln lived and led the government.

And on Friday, November 18, also at noon, we’ll hear from Talmage Boston, whose new book is Cross-Examining History: A Lawyer Gets Answers From the Experts About Our Presidents. Boston interviewed Presidential insiders to get insights about America’s past that can help us better understand our present situation and provide a more informed expectation about our future.

To learn more about these and all of our public programs and exhibits, consult our monthly Calendar of Events in print or online at Archives.gov. There are copies in the lobby—along with a sign-up sheet so you can receive it by regular mail or email. You’ll also find brochures about other National Archives programs and activities.

Another way to get more involved with the National Archives is to become a member of the National Archives Foundation. The Foundation supports the work of the agency, especially its education and outreach programs. Pick up your application for membership in the lobby or become a member online at archivesfoundation.org.

Among all the people who come to the National Archives and Records Administration requesting copies of records, veterans make up the single largest group.

We help veterans access their records, especially those needed to obtain benefits. We preserve the records so that they will be available long into the future. And in our archival holdings, we preserve and ensure access to the records that document the nation’s military activities, in both war and peace.

In St. Louis we operate the National Personnel Records Center, which houses individual Military Personnel Records. The enormous building, opened in 2011, has the capacity to store 2.3 million cubic feet of records. If you lined up end to end all the boxes that will fill those shelves, they would stretch 545 miles from St. Louis to Dallas.

Those boxes and shelves contain the personnel files of an estimated 56 million individuals who served their country in the military. Some of the files document service as early as the 1830s, and the largest one is that of Air Force Gen. Henry "Hap" Arnold, at 6,044 pages.

These files, as documentation of military service, are important not simply as historical records but as verification for critical benefits and services. Our staff in St. Louis came to the rescue of a terminally ill Korean War veteran who was denied access to medical care because he could not produce proof of his military service. They track down documentation to help families get a military burial for their deceased loved ones.

As a veteran myself, I understand and appreciate the importance of the work done in the military personnel records center every day.

The full personnel files of recent veterans are available only to the veterans themselves, but in time, those files become part of the National Archives. Sixty-two years after the service member's separation from the military, his or her records are accessioned and made available to all researchers.

Historians can use these valuable resources of personal service alongside the records of military organizations and operations to more fully examine the history of our nation.

Now it is my pleasure to welcome to the stage the Honorable Cliff Stearns. He is the president of the U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress and a former Member of Congress for Florida’s 6th district, having served for 24 years. He is also an executive director based in APCO Worldwide’s Washington, DC, office and is a member of APCO’s International Advisory Council.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Cliff Stearns.