Former President Calvin Coolidge once said, “The nation which forgets its defenders will itself be forgotten,” acknowledging the importance of remembering the sacrifices of our service members and the values they vowed to protect.
As we approach Veterans Day this week, there are many ways donors can choose to remember and support our nation’s heroes. One organization that devotes itself to “preserving and promoting” the legacy of veterans is the American Veterans Center (AVC), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, which has educated and inspired Americans for over 30 years by providing compelling public education programs, television shows, documentary films and live special events.
This year’s Annual Veterans Conference and Youth Leadership Summit, held live in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 4-6, spotlighted our nation’s World War II veterans with its “Celebration of a Generation,” and even helped one member of the Greatest Generation set a Guinness world record on site.
Philanthropy Roundtable visited with AVC’s Executive Director Tim Holbert to talk about the organization’s mission and programs, highlights from its just-concluded conference and the AVC’s star-studded “American Valor” television special airing Veterans Day weekend.
Question: What is the mission of the American Veterans Center and why is the organization’s work so important?
Holbert: The mission of the AVC is to guard and preserve America’s heroic memory. For a healthy culture and strong future, we need to be confident in ourselves – who we are and who we’ve been. The AVC works to inspire and educate Americans through the people and stories that have defined us since our founding.
Question: What are some of the AVC’s primary activities?
Holbert: Our bread-and-butter work has been in historical preservation. We have filmed and recorded the oral histories of thousands of veterans from World War II to the present day. These stories have appeared in documentaries produced by the AVC, and are made available for other documentaries that have aired on PBS, Netflix and other outlets. All of our interviews are also preserved with the Library of Congress Veterans History Project and are posted to our YouTube Channel, which has enjoyed millions of views.
Our biggest and most notable program is the annual National Memorial Day Parade along Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C. We all know that every city and town across the country has – or had – a parade on the military’s most sacred holiday. However, Washington, D.C.’s parade faded away during the Second World War, and never returned. We were asked to revive the tradition in 2005, and our parade has since grown into the nation’s largest Memorial Day event, drawing some 300,000 spectators annually with a national television audience on ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox stations. The parade shares the story of American sacrifice from the revolution through the present day.
Question: One of your signature events, the Annual Veterans Conference and National Youth Leadership Summit, took place recently. What is the purpose of this conference?
Holbert: Of all our programs, this is the one closest to us. For the last 24 years, in advance of Veterans Day we’ve brought together some of the great stories of American military history: veterans of the famed Doolittle Raid, the men behind “Band of Brothers,” Medal of Honor recipients and more. They’ve shared their stories and lessons on leadership with an audience of hundreds of students from each of the military service academies and ROTC programs from around the country.
It’s truly an intergenerational celebration of our history, and a chance for these students, the future leaders of our military, to connect with their country’s past in an event unlike anything they’ll experience elsewhere. It’s something they carry with them for years to come.
Question: What are some of your favorite moments from the 2021 event?
Holbert: The true highlight is watching the interaction and mutual appreciation between the academy students and the older veterans. But this year was extra special, as we drew together a few dozen of the great remaining stories from World War II.
The pandemic overshadowed the 75th anniversary of the end of the war in 2020, which was to feature parades, concerts and celebrations in Times Square honoring veterans on the last major anniversary where large enough numbers are still able to participate. This year, we created a “Celebration of a Generation,” providing them the salute they deserved. In fact, we helped one of them, Frank Emond, a musician aboard USS Pennsylvania when Pearl Harbor was attacked, set a new Guinness world record as “World’s Oldest Conductor” as he conducted the Air Force band in a performance.
Question: During the conference, you produce a television program called “American Valor,” where you feature heroic military heroes narrated by celebrities. Tell us about a few of this year’s stories and who narrated them. Where can people watch them?
Holbert: “American Valor: A Salute to Our Heroes” is a multi-Emmy winning television special, airing on ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox stations on Veterans Day weekend and beyond (check local listings or visit AmericanVeteransCenter.org). The special spotlights the stories of the men and women who continue to inspire us, draw us together and speak to our better angels as Americans.
Stories in this year’s show include the Tuskegee Top Guns, the team of Tuskegee Airmen who won the first Top Gun in 1949, narrated by Tom Cruise. Another story is of Rocky Bleier, a football player wounded in Vietnam who was told he’d never walk normally again, but went on to win four Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers, narrated by Tim Allen.
Actor, comedian and former U.S. Marine Rob Riggle, host of AVC’s “American Valor: A Salute to our Heroes,” with Tuskegee Airman pilot Lt. Col. James H. Harvey, III (photo courtesy of American Veterans Center)
Question: In addition to honoring heroic stories, you also focus on the sacrifices of Wounded Warriors. Tell us about this special and why feel this is important.
Holbert: “The Wounded Warrior Experience” is a second television special filmed as part of the event, airing Veterans Day weekend on Fox Business Network. The program highlights both the inspiring stories of service members from recent generations who have overcome their injuries and the resources available to veterans and service members managing wounds of war. Beyond physical wounds, the unseen wounds that impact mental health, including post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries, are a major focus of the program. This year’s edition of the program will air on Fox Business on Nov. 20 at 4 p.m.
(photo courtesy of American Veterans Center)
Question: You call this a conference and “National Youth Leadership Summit.” Tell us about this aspect of your program. Why is it important for young people to see these stories and meet these heroes?
Holbert: These heroes of our past and present are the inspiration for our future. It’s why their stories need to be told, and retold. We face an epidemic of historical ignorance, which is responsible for so many of our current social challenges. Rebuilding an understanding and appreciation of history is of monumental importance, and that is our focus.
The event traditionally takes place at the National Archives and allows participating students direct and private access to our nation’s founding documents, the documents that the future officers in attendance are sworn to defend. For many of the students, this is their first time in Washington, let alone seeing the Constitution. So the entire program becomes a lesson in civic inspiration.
Question: What are some of the exciting plans you have in store for 2022?
Holbert: The 2021 National Memorial Day Parade was the first annual event to return to the National Mall following the pandemic, filmed especially for television (but without crowds). In 2022, we are looking forward to the fully live, in person, return of all of our programming. More than ever, we need those opportunities to come together and remember what has set America apart for nearly 250 years.
For more information on the American Veterans Center, please visit the organization’s website and social media pages: