Veterans Oral History Project

October 2005

Colleen Bernard, Urbana High School, Frederick County

The Urbana High School (UHS) Veterans Club is participating in the National Oral Histories Project.  Through an Act of Congress the National Oral Histories program was created, very similar to the slave narratives project in the early 1900’s.  Every day the nation loses 1,000 to 1,500 World War II (WWII) era veterans, and with them dies a very important part of American history.  In response, Congress created a civic project to promote the recordation of these Americans’ stories before they are lost forever.  The students at Urbana High School have made contact with veterans from the community and have recorded two interviews so far.  The students edit the interviews and burn three copies – one for the veteran, one for the school, and one for the county to be cataloged in the Maryland Room and added to the Library of Congress database.

Best Practice 1: Meet a recognized need in the community.

Due to the numbers of veterans we lose everyday, we determined that not only was there a real need, but a pressing need to record these oral histories.  As each day passes, we lose another piece of our history, so it was imperative that we act quickly to begin this ongoing project.

The veterans themselves and their families were helped directly through this project by providing the veterans with an opportunity to tell their stories.  This helped to validate their service and also provided a keepsake for them and their families.  The students from UHS that conducted the interviews were able to experience first hand the preservation of American history, and the stories that together create that history.  Finally, the community will benefit by the preservation of this generation’s history.  Without this project, a very valuable piece of our history would die with these men and women.  Now their stories can live on to teach others about the past in hopes of a better future.

Best Practice 2: Achieve curricular objectives through service-learning.

This project connects to various school curriculum including:  media – film recordation and editing, journalism – preparing interview questions and conducting an interview, history – researching history prior to an interview for preparation and using primary sources to understand history.

Best Practice 3: Reflect throughout the service-learning experience.

After each interview, we debriefed as a team and we discussed ways to improve our questioning and any technical issues that arose.  We also discussed how to continue the project into the next school year and whether or not our goal of one to two interviews per month was feasible.  Finally, we discussed where to conduct the interviews.  Our first two interviews were conducted in the veterans’ homes and we found that this worked well.  It allowed the veterans to be very comfortable when telling their stories and also allowed for us to see any memorabilia that they had from their service, and film that as well.

Best Practice 4: Develop student responsibility.

The students involved in this project attended a training conducted by the Veterans Oral History Project in Frederick County.  After the training, the students brainstormed questions they could ask and practiced some interviewing techniques.   Prior to each interview the students met with the veteran that they would be interviewing.  The purpose of this pre-interview was twofold: 
  1. Provide an opportunity for the students to meet with their veteran and become familiar with each other,
  2. Complete paperwork, releases and confirm basic biographical information.
The students conducted all filming, interviewing, and editing.

Best Practice 5: Establish community partnerships.

We worked with the following community partners:
  • Korean War Veterans Chapter 142 – many of their members were WWII vets as well
  • The Frederick County Veterans Oral Histories Project – Maryland Room C. Burr Arts Library

Best Practice 6: Plan ahead for service-learning.

The students met once a month on club day, as well as two times per month after school, to plan the project.  They conducted research, went through training, and made veteran contacts prior to staring the interviews.

Best Practice 7: Equip students with knowledge and skills needed for service.

Through this project the students gained extensive knowledge about filming, editing, interviewing and most importantly American history.  Students learned interview and research techniques, and developed an understanding for the technical aspects of the interviews – lighting, sound, film, and editing.