This is a guest blog by Siobhan Miller, Teaching with Primary Sources intern at the Young Readers Center & Programs Lab. With thanks to Megan Harris of the Veterans History Project. For more information on the Teaching with Primary Sources internship opportunity, please follow this link.
As Veterans Day approaches, many of us are reflecting on the remarkable stories of those who served. As we build a new experience for children and families in the Library, we are including content about young researchers who have uncovered tales of veterans in unique roles. As caregivers, you can share these stories with the children in your lives to commemorate Veterans Day.
The Ghost Army
One activity in development follows the research journey of Iowa student Caleb Sinnwell. When Caleb was searching for a topic for his National History Day project in 2021, teacher Suzy Turner asked him to consider something called the “Ghost Army.” Caleb had no idea what it was—but was intrigued by the name.
Through research that included using the Library of Congress’s online resources, Caleb learned that the Ghost Army was a nickname given to the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, a group of artist-soldiers. They deployed sound effects of military noises and created visual dummies like inflatable tanks and even fake planes to confuse the enemy. But since the unit was secret, very few people knew of their important work, and they were not properly recognized.
Caleb’s research connected him with an advocacy group devoted to sharing the stories of the Ghost Army. In collaboration with this group, he wrote to lawmakers, convincing both of his state’s Senators to sign on as a cosponsor the S.1404 – Ghost Army Congressional Gold Medal Act.
With your children, we invite you to explore some of the sources included in Caleb’s research box.
- To understand deception, Caleb studied these photographs of Centreville, Virginia from the Civil War.
- Ghost Army member Elmer Mellebrand was recorded for the Veterans History Project. Check out 10:39-12:15 where he speaks about false equipment, or 42:55 to 44:26 where he speaks about sonic deception.
- Caleb found this New York Times article in his local library. We located a copy in the Library’s Serial and Government Publication Division.
In April, we built and evaluated a paper prototype for an interactive research box experience in the Young Readers Center & Programs Lab. Just like Caleb, children and their families were hooked by the name “Ghost Army”. But even more so, families enjoyed the opportunity to experience primary source research on their own. We observed one family where the kid read through the entire replica newspaper in the box. Another visitor told our evaluator that “my favorite was this was research created by a child.”
The Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs)
After learning about Caleb’s story and how it was resonating with visitors, I wanted to create a collection of resources about Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). This program was founded in 1943 to train female civilian pilots in the United States to fly military aircraft so that male pilots could be freed for combat. WASPs primarily served as ferry pilots—meaning they transported planes from factory to air force base or between bases. As the first women to fly military aircraft in the United States, they paved the way for future generations. Because of their status as civilian pilots, however, they could not access veterans’ benefits until President Jimmy Carter signed the G.I. Bill Improvement Act in 1977. In 2009, Congress and President Obama awarded the WASPs the Congressional Gold Medal and in 2016 the first WASP was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
I have been fascinated by the WASPs since high school, when I performed in the play Decision Height by Meredith Dayna Levy. My time at the Library led me to personal narratives, photographs and articles that deepened my appreciation for their service. Here are some of my favorite sources to explore, with suggested questions to discuss with children:
- This article was written by Cornelia Fort, one of the original members of the WASP then called the WAFS, Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron. Why did she enter the WASPs? What do you think motivated women to apply to the WASP Program?
- Check out this oral history interview with WASP pilot Gayle Dora Bevis Reed, specifically from 16:27 to 17:53. How does she describe the feeling of flying?
- Take a look at this picture from the Nancye R. Lowe Crout Collection in the Veteran’s History Project.. What types of clothing are the pilots wearing? Why might they be wearing this? Remind your children to think of changes in air temperature as a plane climbs, especially in an open-cockpit airplane.
- This crossword puzzle features questions about WASP leader Nancy Harkness Love, in horizontal: 1 & 60 and vertical: 6, 10, 23, & 53. For answers, see here.
Reflect with your children about these two groups of veterans. You can use the following questions to prompt discussion.
- Why do you think these veterans received recognition later in life?
- Have you heard of the Ghost Army or the WASPs? If so, when did you learn about them? If not, what else are you interested in learning about them?
- Why do you think the Library preserves these stories?
Activities to Keep the Discussion Going
Elementary School: Create a paper airplane (you can use these instructions ) or use a wooden model.
- Add decorations inspired by Fifinella, the official mascot of the WASPs, and
- Check out photographs of soldiers camouflaging as a tree toad and leopards to inspire your own camouflage airplane in honor of the Ghost Army.
Middle Grades: Write a letter to a Ghost Army or Women Airforce Service Pilot veteran. What questions would you like to ask them? What would you like to tell them about your own life?
High School or older: Several VHP interviews have been conducted by teenagers. Explore some of the examples below for inspiration, below.
- Interviews conducted by Paul LaRue’s students at Washington High School, including with Army Air Corps nurse Mildred Thoroman and Prisoner of War Norman Armbrust
- Interviews conducted by other youth organizations including Park Tudor School and the Veterans History Project Club, Staples High School in Connecticut.
- Then, check out Veterans History Project’s interview resources customized for Scouts, students, and educators, well as the Library of Congress’s oral history resources for families.
- Brainstorm about any veterans in your teen’s life who could add their stories to the VHP archive.
Some Americans might have a specific image in mind when they think of a veteran, but the library’s resources expand these by including women aviators and artists. What other veteran stories can you explore in our collection?