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How Is AI Helping to Preserve the Stories of WWII Veterans?

Margaret Lipman
By
Updated May 16, 2024
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The men and women who contributed to Allied victory in World War II, whether on the battlefield or the homefront, are widely known as the “greatest generation.” Yet with each passing year, fewer of those individuals remain to recount what life was like during the war. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, over 16 million Americans served in WWII, yet fewer than 120,000 were still alive in 2023. By the mid-2030s, there will likely only be a few hundred left.

To help preserve their stories and ensure that future generations can connect with their legacies, the National WWII Museum, located in New Orleans, Louisiana, has undertaken an ambitious project to create virtual versions of 18 Americans who participated in the war effort. The interactive “Voices From the Front” exhibit, which opened in March 2024, allows visitors to sit down and “chat” with the life-sized likenesses of real veterans. To provide the content needed for virtual versions of themselves, the veterans, all in their 90s or 100s, were filmed with 13 cameras as they answered hundreds of interview questions about their wartime experiences.

Bringing veterans and museum-goers together is something that the National WWII Museum has been doing since 2000, with the launch of a program encouraging visitors to sit with veteran volunteers to hear their memories and ask questions. Sadly, this is no longer feasible due to the advanced age and declining health of many WWII veterans. Now, with the help of a $1.5 million donation, the museum is turning to artificial intelligence to keep those conversations going, even when the veterans themselves can’t be present.

When a visitor asks a question to the console, the exhibit uses voice recognition software and AI to select the best answer from the extensive database of video interview clips. Visitors can come up with their own questions about the veteran’s life (including not only wartime service but also details about their childhood, favorite color, favorite food, etc.) or choose one from a list of suggestions. Though not quite seamless (it can sometimes take a while for the best response to be retrieved), the effect is that the video avatar appears to be listening intently and providing a considered response.

Preserving the front for the future:

  • The National WWII Museum estimates that 131 World War II veterans die every day. One of those veterans was Hershel Woodrow “Woody” Williams, who completed the interviews for the exhibit before his death in June 2022 at age 98. Williams, who fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima, was the last living recipient of the Medal of Honor for WWII service.

  • For the project, the museum interviewed a wide range of veterans with diverse backgrounds and wartime experiences, including two home-front workers: a USO dancer and a factory worker who made parts for B-17 heavy bombers. The other 16 interviewees were military personnel, including a Jeep driver, a nurse, and a translator. The interviewees also included a Holocaust survivor, a veteran from a segregated Army unit for Japanese-Americans, and one of the first black U.S. Marine Corps recruits.

  • According to National WWII Museum CEO and president Stephen Watson, “This powerful addition to the museum will give visitors the ability to authentically connect with these individuals, creating an effective way to carry on their memories of the sights, sounds, terrors, and triumphs of the war for generations to come.”

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Margaret Lipman
By Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range of topics. Her articles cover essential areas such as finance, parenting, health and wellness, nutrition, educational strategies. Margaret's writing is guided by her passion for enriching the lives of her readers through practical advice and well-researched information.
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Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range...
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