A Teacher’s Reflections on Participating in the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project

This post was written by Paul LaRue, a retired social studies teacher in Washington Court House, Ohio.

My students and I began participating in Veterans History Project (VHP) in 2003. My school district is rich in community support, but not in financial wealth. The VHP appealed to me because I felt strongly about its mission to preserve veterans’ stories of service and sacrifice, and frankly, it did not require money to participate.

Our first interview was with an African American World War II veteran who was the Commander of a local American Legion Post. We invited the veteran to the classroom, and the students conducted the interview from a script of questions they had developed. We soon learned that word of mouth was extremely important to connect with veterans.  Another student and his grandfather, a Korean War veteran, would have lunch at the American Legion Post and talk up our project. My students and I became regulars at both American Legion Posts in our community, and our classroom became a place where veterans felt safe to come and share their stories of service and sacrifice.

In many cases, the veteran would tell us they had never spoken about their service before. Many were very modest about their service, usually saying something like, “My service was not that interesting, but you should talk to…” A group of African American veterans from the nearby community of Yellow Springs contacted us and asked if my students could travel to their community to record their veterans. One veteran told us, “No one was preserving our stories.”

Between 2003 and 2010 we interviewed 68 Veterans for the VHP. Most had served in World War II, but we also interviewed several veterans who had served in Korea and Vietnam. Approximately half the World War II veterans we interviewed were African American. We interviewed several women who had served. Every veteran who shared his or her story helped my students and I better understand the sacrifices their service involved.

Our project was successful because of strong community support. The single most powerful lesson for me was how the veterans viewed our project and the powerful connections formed through it. I have been honored to give three eulogies and serve as a pallbearer for veterans we interviewed. Last summer, mid-pandemic, I was honored to make graveside remarks for the last African American World War II veteran from our county.

Below are several of the interviews my students conducted.

  • Fred DiDomenico, World War II, Sgt., Marine Corps, first wave Bougainville and Guam, Silver Star recipient
  • Buddie Branch, World War II, Corp., 761 Tank Battalion, Bronze Star recipient
  • George Walker, World War II, 1st Lt., Counter Intelligence Corps, discovered Nazi death factory, also interviewed by the Shoah Foundation
  • Howard Gray, World War II, Sgt., 3414 Quartermaster Truck Company, “Red Ball Express”
  • Norman Armbrust, World War II, Army Air Corps, Flight Officer, 423rd Bomb Squadron,  Prisoner of War, Stalag Luft III and Stalag VII
  • Mildred Thoroman, World War II, 1st Lt., Army Nurse Corps, served in Australia and New Guinea
  • Bill Anderson, World War II, Pvt., Army, combat at the Battle of Attu, Purple Heart recipient

The impact of the veterans’ stories has wide ranging benefits. Holocaust education has been enriched by first person accounts of liberators. African American veterans’ stories of service contain both pride in serving their country, coupled with painful stories of racism they faced while serving. These accounts make a useful starting point for discussions of social justice issues faced by our country, past and present.

What stories are waiting for you and your students to discover and preserve using the Veterans History Project ?

2 Comments

  1. Julie Schaul
    May 25, 2021 at 11:25 am

    What a fantastic community service you and your students provided! Experiences like these are so transformative for students.

  2. Martha Leonard
    May 25, 2021 at 3:23 pm

    I was very impressed with reading the veteran interviews that students did. I commend the teacher for taking initiative to do this. And am grateful the Library of Congress has put all this online. And of course I am so thankful for all of our servicemen and women throughout the years who have defended this great nation, maybe not by actual front line service but by the behind the scene jobs they did and by the hours of training and preparation they went through.
    I write this May 25, 2021 in Yorba Linda. California. I am not a veteran. But I had a father and uncles who served in WWII. An active duty niece in the air force and a retired brother who served 20 years in the Navy.
    Earlier in this month the veteran sacrifices came to the forefront in the family when my husband’s father Herman Leonard a Korean War vet received a military burial at Bushnell National Cemetery. What an awesome spectacle it all was. We all now wonder which great grandson will receive the flag. And who too will choose to serve.
    Just this past week, when the TV show 60 Minutes aired a story about UFOs, I was reminded of episode involving a supposed UFO that my father wrote about seeing in WWII flight training. Strange to say the least. But after watching the TV show maybe not so. I wonder if anyone would like to hear that story or where should I send the details. I have a copy of his hand written recollection of this strange phenomena.
    With must thanks
    to all that serve in the military
    and in the libraries.
    Martha Leonard

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