National Archives Salutes Veterans and Active Military Personnel
Press Release · Thursday, September 18, 2003

Washington, DC

Sneak Preview of New Exhibition on Veterans Day

Washington, D.C. . . . On Thursday, November 11, the National Archives honors veterans, active military personnel and their families with an exclusive sneak peek of the new permanent exhibition, "The Public Vaults." The exhibition opens to the public on November 12 at the National Archives Building, located on Constitution Avenue at 9th Street, NW. The exhibition, which is a public-private partnership between the National Archives and the Foundation for the National Archives, will welcome all military personnel and their families to the free exhibition between 10 AM and 5:30 PM. In addition, the National Archives Museum Shop will offer a 10 percent discount to those being honored on that day.

In announcing the special preview, Archivist of the United States John W. Carlin said, "The records of active military personnel and veterans are such a key part of our holdings and are a highlight in this exhibition. We want to honor those who have served this country by welcoming them as our first visitors to 'The Public Vaults'".

The National Archives takes special pride in its role in protecting the records of those who have protected our nation. It holds both individual service records and unit records stretching from the American Revolution to the Gulf War, covering all branches of the military service. Near the entrance to the exhibition, the National Archives will have experts and information available regarding veterans' records from the National Archives' National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri. The National Personnel Records Center responds to approximately 4,000 requests pertaining to military records each day, totaling more than one million requests each year. The best way for a veteran or family member to request records is the online application form on the NARA web site,

The new permanent exhibition, "The Public Vaults", will shine a light into the vaults and stack areas where the treasures of the National Archives are preserved for the American people. One major focus of the exhibition, Provide for the Common Defense, highlights the US military. The power of these documents is in the way they capture both individual heroism and collective sacrifice. Together with declassified records of strategy and tactics, they bring a human dimension to the tragedy of war.

Visitors will be able to listen in on the deliberations of Presidents as they faced some of the country's greatest challenges, explore newly declassified top secret documents, step into the boots of soldiers on the front lines of World War II, learn about the recruitment process and how it has changed over time, see Louis Armstrong's draft registration card and historic military recruitment posters, and experience many other of the extraordinary events of our history.

The "Public Vaults" combines two elements:

  • The Record of America, a timeline, that takes visitors on a journey through time and the changing technology of communications;
  • Five "vaults" based on the Preamble to the Constitution: We the People; Form a More Perfect Union; Promote the General Welfare; Provide for the Common Defense; and To Ourselves and Our Posterity. Each of these five vaults combines real documents, interactive exhibits, and immersive displays to open America's records to the public.

The "Public Vaults" exhibition is part of The National Archives Experience, an educational initiative to create experiences that celebrate the American spirit and reveal how our nation's past is a living part of our nation's future.

Other Components of the National Archives Experience

National Archives Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom which includes the permanent display of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights and "The New World is at Hand", an exhibition highlighting the creation and the impact of the Charters. The renovated Rotunda and the Charters of Freedom opened to the public on September 18, 2003.

The Lawrence F. O'Brien Gallery features special exhibitions developed by the National Archives and traveling exhibitions from the Presidential libraries and other organizations. "The American Presidency: Photographic Treasures of the National Archives" opens to the public on December 7, 2004.

The William G. McGowan Theater opened in September 2004. It features continuous showings of "Preserving the Charters of Freedom," a dramatic film that chronicles the behind-the-scenes preservation of the Charters of Freedom, produced by Middlemarch Films for NOVA/WGBH and PBS. The Theater also hosts a wide range of documentary film series and programs with the nation's leading authors, as well as family programs, historic reenactments, and community activities.

A New Learning Center will open in 2005 that will offer in-depth education programs for middle and high school students as well as workshops geared to the needs of parents and teachers. The Center will include a Learning Lab, Resource Room, Digital Classroom, and National Teacher's program.

An Expanded Website will bring the National Archives to all Americans as well as people from around the globe. This comprehensive website will serve as a gateway to the vast and rich records of the National Archives. Selected computer interactive elements from the 'Public Vaults' exhibition will also be included on the site, as well as materials for teachers and students.

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For Press information, contact the National Archives Public Affairs Staff at
202-501-5526 or 301-837-1700.


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