A World War II Oral History Project for Eighth Graders

Social Education, January 2001 | Go to article overview

A World War II Oral History Project for Eighth Graders


Beginning in 1995, my eighth grade social studies students have participated in a World War II Oral History Project. They study World War II, learn about oral history research methods, and then interview an elderly relative or neighbor about his or her memories of that eventful era. Students compile the written reports of the interviews into booklets , six of which have been produced to date. A few excerpts from those booklets appear below.

From this project has evolved an annual community history day, with citizens bringing memorabilia and stories to share with the students in the middle school. Community involvement has resulted in the sharing of other family and community history, including participation in the purchase and future restoration of a Seventh Day Baptist Church, circa 1835, by the Trompton Historical Society of DeRuyter.

-- Thomas E. Gray, DeRuyter Central School, DeRuyter, New York

A Whisper

My grandfather Burdick ... was in the sixth grade and they were in a lesson when a man came in and whispered something to the teacher and the teacher said, "My goodness, we're at war." My grandfather stated that they did practice air mid attacks [drills] and had [electrical power] blackouts where he lived. He said they practiced, but it never became boring. -- Lucas Burdick

[Note: The teacher had, no doubt, just received word of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's address to Congress on Monday December 8, 1941, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. This was the "Day of Infamy Speech," after which the United States, through an act of Congress, declared war on Japan. -- T. Gray]

Milkweed

While [Alan Brown] was in school, everyone had to collect milkweed pods and put them in bags so the [fluffy] insides could be made into insulation. Of course, this was a sticky job, but everybody wanted to help their country.

His three brothers were in the war. His brother Kyle was killed in the war. After that, his mother had one gold star in the window and two blue stars. After the war, they settled down in New York where Alan [got married and] had three children. Many years after they were born, he showed them the box of letters and such they received and told them all about the war and how they all contributed. -- Dustin Becker

Navajo Code Talkers

Blance B. Rainbow, my great aunt, was 13 years old when World War II began. During most of the war, she lived at Rainbow Creek in Tully Valley [New York].... Living on a farm, they did not have to ration a lot of things, as they grew much of their own food. They did ration gas and sugar, but on the farm they had honey bees. Blance and her younger brother had to work in the fields, the barn, and Blance had to work in the house with her mother.

The war was the death of the farm, as all the help [young men in the family] was gone and people had to be paid to work the farm. The whole family was scared for their friends in the war. Blance's older brother, George S. Rainbow, went in to the army following D-Day, right after his graduation from Tully High School. George felt he wouldn't have any freedom if he didn't go. In Italy, he was a ski-trooper. The only way [Blance] could talk to her brother was writing letters, and all of the family did. Later, this was called "keeping morale up."

One day George wrote to Blance and said thanks to Navajo Indians who were radio operators, speaking their native language, the Germans could not decode the important military messages. -- Tiffany Custer

[Note: The Navajo Code Talkers were marines all, and fought in the Pacific. Members of the Comanche and Choctaw nations served as radio operators in the European theater in small numbers, according to what I have read. -- T. Gray]

Being Jewish

During World War II, my grandmother, Lila Friedman, was an adolescent, only 15 years old. When she found out about the war, she was in a movie theater.

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