November 10, 2021

Arlington National Cemetery visitor salutes  Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
A veteran salutes in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery while her children place flowers during a public flower laying ceremony as part of the Centennial Commemoration Nov. 10, 2021. (Photo by Erica Jaros, IMLS)

By Erica Jaros

This Veterans Day, we honor our nation’s approximately 19 million veterans and their stories. Oftentimes, the public views service members as “warriors,” but they are much more than that. Those veterans joined the military to serve other people, their communities, and the nation.

To engage the public this year, Arlington National Cemetery allowed, for the first time in its history, members of the public to place flowers on the plaza of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as part of the Centennial Commemoration on November 9 and 10. This Veterans Day, as we honor our nation’s veterans, it is just as important to learn and hear their experiences.  

Museums and libraries have the unique ability to introduce us to these Americans and their perspectives. They give not only insight into past events, but they also stand as a testament. Across the country, institutions are using IMLS grants to collect and share the stories of America’s military veterans.

Over the years, institutions have been turning their focus to collecting oral and community histories including military service, for the benefit of future generations.

Arlington National flowers
Volunteers distribute flowers to visitors taking part in the public flower laying ceremony as part of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Centennial Commemoration at Arlington National Cemetery Nov. 10, 2021. (Photo by Erica Jaros, IMLS)

Indigenous people have long honored warriors as an integral part of their Tribes and communities. Sitting Bull of the Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux is quoted as saying, “The warrior, for us, is one who sacrifices himself for the good of others. His task is to take care of the elderly, the defenseless, those who cannot provide for themselves, and above all, the children—the future of humanity.” That role is still honored through military service today.

The Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Library Program is using a Native American Library Services Basic grant to enhance their collections on the history indigenous peoples in North America. Materials include culturally significant literature addressing a variety of topics, including documented histories of Tribal members, who serve in the United States military at a higher rate than any other demographic.

Additionally, Lac Courte Oreilles (LCO) Museum and Visitors Center and its partner LCO Ojibwe College are using a Native American Museum Services grant to create an exhibit recognizing “Ikwe–The Women of LCO.” Tribal elders will assist in gathering family histories and focus on the many areas Ikwe have excelled, including community health, military service, and social action among others.

Arlington National museum exhibit Arlington National Cemetery flag display
Top: A historian talks to visitors in the Arlington Memorial Amphitheater Rotunda Nov. 10, 2021. (Photo by Erica Jaros, IMLS) Bottom: Items from the 1921 dedication for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier are on display in the Arlington Memorial Amphitheater Rotunda, including the U.S Medal of Honor and other awards and decorations presented to the unknown service member. (Photo by Erica Jaros, IMLS)

Some museums and libraries not only share the stories of those who served, but also preserve critical items that give the public a glimpse into military life and can allow for an up-close, hands-on experience.

The Home Port Alliance for the Battleship New Jersey is using a Save America’s Treasures grant to replace sections of the vessel’s teak deck. The Battleship New Jersey, which was on active duty from 1943-2000, is one of the most decorated military vessels in United States history. The ship allows visitors to sit in the captain’s chair on the bridge and lay in the bunks sailors used for almost 50 years.

The Buffalo Naval Park Committee is using Save America’s Treasures funds to repair the destroyer USS The Sullivans, re-named to honor the five Sullivan brothers who died in World War II. The Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park features four decommissioned Naval vessels that served in military conflicts throughout America’s history.

Preserving the stories and history of our country’s service members is critical to connecting communities with local veterans. It’s more than an exhibit or collection of papers: it’s the rich and varied experiences of the people who served the citizens of the United States.

For more information on IMLS and veterans, including the Community Salute program, visit

Erica, a Communications Specialist at IMLS, also currently serves as a sergeant first class in the District of Columbia Army National Guard.