starts at home ... and school
November 5 , 2003
They fought in wars so we could be free. Veterans' stories are part of our nation's living history.
But as the years pass, it sometimes seems appropriate to ask, "Is anyone recording this history"?
The answer is: A lot of teachers and students are.
The Library of Congress has a program to encourage oral histories of veterans. The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress was created to preserve audio- and videotaped oral histories and documentary materials.
"One of the students interviewed a World War II vet who helped liberate one of the (concentration) camps," said Alice Cross, a teacher at the Life School, an alternative school in Chappaqua, Westchester County. "He was very young, 18, on the European front moving east ...
"The students said they were moved by the people their own age who had to face the danger and unpredictability of war," said Cross, a member of the Chappaqua Congress of Teachers. "The students came away feeling grateful for the safety of their own lives."
One interviewer in Chappaqua was a prominent local champion of the Library of Congress project. "The benefits of this program can be enormous, even before the tapes are put in the mail (to the Library of Congress)," said U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, who interviewed a former prisoner of war last year. "Interviewers can come away with a more complete understanding of our nation's history and a renewed respect for the men and women who fought to preserve the freedoms we live by today."
In Hudson Falls, social studies teacher Matt Rozell has been recording World War II stories for a dozen years.
"It began when I asked my 10th-graders,'Do you have grandparents, great-aunts or uncles who served in World War II?'" said Rozell, a member of the Hudson Falls Teachers Association. "Many of them did, so I wrote up a two-page survey and sent it home with the kids. I got a good response and started asking the veterans to come in and speak in front of the class."
Hudson Falls has recently approved a 12th-grade elective taught by Rozell called World War II Living History. Students will be trained in interviewing techniques and sent out as documentarians and museum curators.
"For some of these veterans, our interviews are the first time they have talked about the war experiences - it's a catharsis," said Rozell. If the veterans consent, Rozell shares the interviews with the Veteran Oral History Program, a part of the state Military Museum and Veteran Research Center.
"It provides the kids with a perspective on the veterans and war they have never had," said Hudson Falls TA President Bill Frederick. "My own two children came out of one of Matt's presentations shaking their heads; they didn't know war was like that."
There has been a historical change in the classroom. "I've seen kids who are turned off by school get excited about this project," Rozell said. "Maybe the next time these kids are stuck behind a senior citizen in traffic, they will think about the times they lived through and maybe look at them differently."
Veteran history links galore
For more information on veterans oral history programs, click on