The other day I spoke to a sixth-grade class at the elementary school from which I graduated some 51 years ago, in the class of '61. I was deeply impressed by the brightness and inquisitiveness of the youngsters in the class, and I witnessed only two yawns in the whole 45 minutes. That's a lot better than I can say for my average library presentation. I spoke to the kids about oral history, and they made a lot of comments and asked a lot of questions.
And I learned a lot myself. I learned that no sixth grader, at least at Hunter College Elementary School, has ever heard of Studs Terkel. So I told them that when people think of oral history, Studs Terkel is the name that comes up most often, and that he wrote books like "Hard Times" in which he let people tell their stories about the Great Depression, and "The Good War," in which he interviewed veterans of World War II. I also told them there are many oral historians and that many good colleges have oral history programs.
All of these kids take part in National History Day, and I explained how whatever subject they choose for their presentation, if they google the subject and add "oral history" to the search, they're almost sure to find individual stories that will add depth to their project.
But the most important thing I learned was that I shouldn't assume that readers of my blog, which I hope now includes a sixth-grader or two, may not know as much about the war as I do now. When I read my previous entry upon returning home, hoping it didn't have too many cuss words, I came upon a passage in which Walter Galbraith described reaching for his steel helmet and said that it had morphine inside. I thought, if I'm a sixth-grader and I'm reading this, assuming sixth-graders who don't know who Studs Terkel was do know what morphine is, they're going to think he got the helmet so he could use the morphine.
So I opened the entry up and added a parenthetical explanation of why the morphine was there -- in case someone was wounded -- and then Walter went to to explain how he took his rifle and propped the helmet up in the hatch opening of his tank, and when a shell exploded above the tank it shredded the helmet so that it looked like spaghetti, but at least it kept most of the shrapnel from entering the tank.
Which brings me to Veterans Day. I brought a set of audio samplers to give to the students, and left them with the teacher, Alvin Shields, to hand out after I left.
In honor of Veterans Day, here are some of the audio excerpts on the sampler CD, which I usually hand out at air shows or when I give library talks. The excerpts are mostly taken from full-length audiobooks.
Karnig Thomasian was a gunner in a B-29 that exploded over Rangoon, Burma, and was a prisoner of the Japanese.
|Pfc. Patsy J. Giacchi|
Pfc. Patsy J. Giacchi, a quartermaster, was a survivor of the ill-fated Excercise Tiger, in which the LST 507 that he was on was torpedoed and sunk.
|Erlyn Jensen, left, and Linda Dewey|
Erlyn Jensen, Kassel Mission Historical Society. Erlyn's brother, Major Don McCoy, was the command pilot on the Kassel Mission bombing raid of Sept. 27, 1944. and was killed when his B-24 was one of 25 Liberators from the 445th Bomb Group that were shot down that day. Linda's father, Bill Dewey, was the pilot of a badly shot up B-24 that made it back to an emergency Royal Air Force landing field at Manston, England.
Learn more about Oral History Audiobooks
From Oral History Audiobooks:
From Chi Chi Press: