Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - May 23, 2008

Lessons from one generation to another

For each of my classes at K-State, I usually assign projects that give my students real-world experience, such as designing advertising campaigns for local clients in the Ad Sales class or writing articles and taking photos for special sections in writing classes.

This spring I discussed my News and Feature Writing class and what project I might assign with husband Art, who came up with the idea of having my students interview people who lived through World War II. The idea immediately sparked my interest. I have spoken with many family members and friends who were part of the World War II generation, and their stories intrigue me. I had a feeling my students would respond in a similar manner.

Before a week had passed, I had established a basic time line and, after contacting the Riley County Historical Society for assistance, was well on my way to locating a variety of people who were willing to be guinea pigs. In fact, most were not only willing, but eager to tell their stories. One veteran even encouraged me to hurry as he was going to two funerals that very week of friends who had served in the war.

But I didn't want the students to interview only those who had served in the military. I also wanted them to talk to people who aided the war effort by working in defense factories or on farms, making due on the home front under rationing, raising Victory gardens, helping with scrap metal drives or working with prisoners of war who were housed in POW camps in Kansas. One student wanted to interview a man who had been a conscientious objector during the war. I was pleased that he took the initiative to do a story from a different angle.

In order to ask good questions and not appear foolish to the people they would interview, the student reporters first would have to research the events that led to the war, when and how it began, who the participants were, how things unfolded and how lives were affected.

With this initial background work completed, they would interview their sources and then write profiles stories about them, quite probably having to do more research to understand some of what they learned.

I told the students they would turn in several drafts so I could redirect those who might get off on the wrong foot. As with all such assignments, the initial results varied over a wide range. Some students wrote such interesting stories that I wanted to know more. Others thought I didn't really mean it when I said I wanted to see their initial attempts and arrived in class with nothing. Those students learned something about deadlines and consequences for not meeting them.

Others showed inadequate attention to detail. One reporter said her subject was assigned to Camp Lucky Stripes in France. The correct name was Camp Lucky Strike, named for the cigarette brand. She also referred to the German handgun as a "looter" rather than a "Luger." Another mentioned her interviewee was stationed at "Fort Seal" when it should have been "Fort Sill." Some were simple typographic errors such as "laying wooden plans" on the bridge when wooden planks was intended.

But I was pleased that many of students seemed to "get into" the assignment, going back to visit with their interviewees several times to get their stories straight. In the end, they not only learned a little history and an appreciation of what their grandparents' generation went through, but quite a bit about journalism as well.

The semester is over now, but I hope some of the lessons they learned will stick with them. And I hope that on Monday - when flags are raised to memorialize the contributions of those who served the country during times such as World War II - that they'll pause to appreciate the sacrifices that previous generations have made.

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