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The Veterans History Project: Making Veterans’ Stories Come to Life

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Four women being inducted into the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps

Many of your students may have a relative or friend who is serving in the armed forces. Though television and the Internet bring images of war into the home, many students might not be aware of the day-to-day experiences of those who have fought on the front lines.

A great way to help expose students to these stories is the Veterans History Project (VHP). The VHP, a project of the Library of Congress, makes available online hundreds oral history interviews and other materials from those who fought or were involved in World Wars I and II, the Korean and Vietnam conflicts and the wars in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan.

For the quickest access to veterans’ stories, pictures and correspondence, browse selected interviews by theme. In addition, students can search the collections by name, specific conflict, branch of service and where they served.

Looking for ways to ways to use the Veterans History Project in your class activities? Here are some suggestions:

  • Use the Library’s Veterans History Project primary source set as a starting point. Veterans’ Stories: The Veterans History Project and Veterans’ Stories: Struggles for Participation allows students to quickly access a large collection of Veterans History Project materials, The Library has teacher’s guides with teaching tips and an analysis tool that students can use to record their thinking when listening to an interview, reading a letter, or looking at a drawing or a photograph.
  • Ask students to compare the stories of two people who served in the same branch of service but in different wars. In what ways were their experiences similar?
  • Have students listen to a few of the interviews from the section on patriotism, identify different ways in which the veterans describe or express their views on patriotism, and compare their responses.
  • The VHP includes personal correspondence as well as the interviews. Some of the correspondence took the form of traditional letters, but some took a more creative form. For example, students might look at the way Marion Gurfein corresponded with her husband while he served in World War II. Have students think of creative ways to keep veterans informed of daily activities. Use those ideas to create correspondence for family and friends.
  • High school students may want to record an oral history of a veteran they know and submit it to the Veterans History Project. Information on how to record an interview and submit it to the Library can be found in a kit from the VHP.
Drawing of a yeoman on a Liberty ship off Utah Beach, 1944. By Navy Lieutenant Junior Grade Tracy Sugarman.

If you’ve worked with the Veterans History Project in the past, we’d love to hear about it in the comments.



Comments (3)

  1. My students have read diaries and journals of WWI soldiers and mapped the individual soldier’s journeys using Google Maps. Beginning with their homes, basic training, port of departure/arrival, and including battlefields & even train depots in France– students develop such a sense of attachment to the person whose actual thoughts and words they are reading. The curiosity and enthusiasm from my students while completing this task is remarkable. Google maps allow students to collaborate together on the same map from different computers and locations.

  2. I have recently graduated college and I am taking a class on how to apply primary sources into the classroom and I have found the Veteran’s History Project to be completely fascinating. Students normally have a very negative response when they hear they have to ‘research’ or ‘study’ primary sources involving historic events. Most think this research will just include reading pages and pages of boring documents, but this article is incredibly inspiring to get students immersed in their learning. War is a topic every student can relate to and exposing students to the VHP would be a wonderful opportunity to have them personally connect with the subject. Listening to interviews and stories brings the content to life for students and makes it much easier for them to internalize the material. The prompts listed are also a great way to get the students continuously engaged which makes learning come so much more naturally. Awesome article! I will definitely try to use this in my classroom.

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