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Record the Past

Tomb of the Unknown SoldierHow many World War II veterans are alive in the U.S. today? Let me answer that for you:

According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, there are approximately 1,462,809 veterans still alive as of November 2012. Over a million. But listen to this-

“The Department of Veterans Affairs estimated that in 2011, 670 American World War II veterans died every day. The median age for a World War II veteran in June 2011 was 92 years.” (source)

Each one of those veterans have their own unique stories to tell of what life was like back then. Sadly, many of these stories will go to the grave with these honored veterans, never to be heard again. History is slipping away at a rapid rate.

The following activity will be a fantastic opportunity to not only let them become involved in creating a primary source, but to really connect with Utah history through people they already know who have lived through it.

Simply put, ask your students to make an audio recording of someone who lived during an important era of Utah history. As the teacher, it’s up to you on how specific you want the time frame to be. Here are some ideas:

Interview someone who lived during:
The Great Depression
World War II
Vietnam War
Cold War

It can be a veteran describing war stories, it can be a great-grandmother describing what times were like during the Great Depression, or you can even interview people with opposing stories- a mother, from the city, who grew up during the Cold War and a father who lived in the country growing up at the same time.* Did their place of origin make a difference in what they experienced? How?

The students must create a list of questions to ask the interviewee. It’s important that you guide the students in creating the right kind of questions to ask. Let them be creative and show their curiosity, but make sure questions are appropriate (especially for war veterans). It would also be helpful to briefly teach the students proper interview etiquette, whether they are related to the interviewee or not. Some examples should include:

-Show up on time.
-Give eye contact.
-Don’t look bored!
-Bring a thank you gift

…and etc.

This could truly be an experience that can connect your students with Utah history. Be hearing it directly from the people who lived it.

*On a personal note, I myself did an interview like this with my own parents when I was in college. I was completely stunned with how different the histories were between my mother, from L.A., and my father, from Panguitch. And it’s not what you would think, either; my dad had FAR greater stories to tell about community wartime efforts and fundraisers for Polio vaccine…my mom on the other hand, didn’t remember anything like that. For her, other than the fact that a war was going on in Vietnam, life went on as usual. You never know what you’ll learn from these interviews.

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