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Service to the community is especially important to me, especially my volunteer work with the County veterans’ museum in Tarboro, North Carolina. While working there, I met Joel Bourne, one of the museum's primary organizers, who mentioned the name of a local man who saw action on D-Day. He knew of my interest in World War II veterans and thought I might like to interview someone he knew.

I first became interested in our local veterans by attending a ceremony on the Town Common in 2003. A handsome memorial had just been erected to honor local veterans and “all others who had served our nation in war and peace.” Simple but breathtaking, the memorial consisted of our nation’s flag on a majestic flagpole, surrounded by five lower flagpoles flying the colors of each branch of the military. Beginning in 2003, monthly ceremonies where held to honor a deceased veteran.

Prior to this, I had begun attending family reunions, which paid tribute to an ancestor who had fought during the Civil War. In addition, I had photographs of my father’s service during World War I and World War II hanging on my walls at home. Copies of these photographs now hang in our local museum.

My work as a librarian, led to a keen interest in primary sources, especially photographs, letters, and recordings. My passion for these artifacts was sparked in 2001, when I was selected to attend the American Memory Fellows Institute at the Library of Congress, along with an English teacher from my high school. During the week we spent there, we designed a digital lesson on the historical and literary legacy of Frederick Douglass.

Such an intensive study of primary source materials helped me to realize their potential in the classroom, and I began sharing my knowledge with students. I tried to convey my excitement of reading these eyewitness accounts, which were so much more powerful than anything they could find in their textbooks.

Another workshop, this one about oral histories, taught me about interviewing and recording techniques. This workshop was held in the mountains in a public library, and the speakers were from the Oral History Project of the University of North Carolina. The experience led me to purchase a professional recorder so that I might have the advantage of longer recording sessions and online editing of audio files.

I had already started to meet with a few veterans, taking notes and keeping files of photographs and military papers. Observing my interest and activities, the president of the local veterans organization told me about a local gentleman who had been a paratrooper during World War II. In 2006, I started interviewing him. Because so many of the Greatest Generation are now in their 80’s, I felt a sense of urgency to capture John’s vivid memories. A kit from the Veterans’ History Project at the Library of Congress provided guidelines and release forms. I was keenly aware of the Library’s mission to archive this material in a format that could be enjoyed by future generations.

By August, 2007, the project was finished. The final product was a CD containing the interview, along with copies of John’s military papers and photographs of his honors. All of these artifacts were mailed to the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress and are now held in the “John Harrawood Collection” which is easily accessed through the Project’s website at www.loc.gov/vets.

High school students across the nation have made significant contribution to the growth of the Project’s digital archive. There is great potential for using the Project in the classroom and the school library media center. For example, lessons about primary sources and the contributions of World War II veterans combine English Language Arts and Social Studies.

Eighth graders in our school district are required to read the Diary of Anne Frank, and working with one of our English Language Arts teachers, we began a unit in October 2007. I was surprised (and maybe a little shocked) that the class had not heard about the Holocaust, or Hitler. I spent many long hours preparing lessons that would bring depth to this period of world history. For example, I studied the rise of Hitler and taught students how he blamed Jews for Germany’s economic problems. We learned about propaganda and viewed film footage and photographs related to the persecution of not only Jews, but other ethnic groups as well.

We discussed how the United States entered the War and the massive build up of troops that led to D-Day. We also discussed sacrifices made on the home front as families were required to limit travel and use food rations.

I used primary sources such as photographs of prisoners of war and “Dear John” letters to convey the emotional impact of the war. Documents like this provided a human element to history that is usually not found in textbooks, and led to discussions from students who told of having a relative who had fought in Viet Nam, or in Iraq. I shared my experience of interviewing a veteran of World War II and what I learned from it: that freedom is not to be taken lightly, and what a different world we would now live in had Hitler won. I urged students to talk to family members who were veterans, bringing a tape recorder along.

One of the most powerful lessons to come out of this unit revolved around tolerance: tolerance for race, religion, culture, sexual preference, and ideas. I urged students to remember that Hitler targeted not only Jewish people, but gypsies, scholars, and homosexuals as well. I reminded them to respect differences, and to never make fun of someone’s disability or appearance.

The dialogue generated during our study of Anne Frank, World War II, and the Holocaust created a bonding in our class. Since the beginning of the school year, I have kept both written and audio journals as evidence of a powerful learning experience for students and teachers alike. I’m certain it holds invaluable ideas for future lessons.

I look forward to having many more opportunities to share my knowledge and experience with oral history and primary sources. The recording that I made of my friend John is now housed at the County Veterans Museum so that local students and teachers can listen and learn from it.

I believe it was Mark Twain who said: “the shortest distance between two people is a story.” Everyone has a story to share. Stories provide a rich context in the classroom and school library. I hope to be able to record students’ stories and have been greatly inspired by the educational leadership of the Library of Congress. I’m also excited by the work of National Public Radio, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and other entities that welcome students as individual partners. The result is a rich tapestry of history, as told by everyday people. Such powerful, personal learning can become etched in our permanent memory and passed along to future generations.