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Veteran Interview Question Guide


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#1 Otto

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Posted 27 July 2007 - 11:49 PM

The following is a list of the more helpful questions that one can ask a veteran to get a comprehensive view of what their service was like. I must admit that the questions are a little biased toward US WWII veterans, but I have tried my very best to identify groups of questions that are either specific to US service or specific to the Second World War. I believe that these questions are a good guide, any feedback/additions are appreciated, I'll add them to the list.

I have included an introduction that might also help; familiarize the veteran with this questionnaire. A notepad text file is attached to this post for those who'd like to download this.

====================


Preserving Your History


Please consider saving your oral history, memoirs, diary, and/or letters home. By leaving your oral history you will have done your country another good deed, and you will serve future generations as they strive to understand their world. Answering this list of questions will help future generation understand what the world was like. Feel free to answer any individual question or skip any individual question, it’s up to you, but please know that every answer you provide gives us a wealth of information and will be greatly appreciated.


Home Front

What were you doing just before you joined the armed forces? Were you a student? Working? Married or single? Did you have any children?

Under what circumstances did you enter the armed forces? Were you drafted or did you enlist? How old were you?

Why did you join the armed forces?

Did your parents approve of you serving in the military?

How did you feel about leaving home?

How did you communicate with loved ones at home front?


Pearl Harbor (US Questions)

How did you hear about Pearl Harbor?

Where were you when it happened?

What was your reaction?

What happened in the days that followed?


War Begins

How did your country get embroiled in war?

Where were you when it happened?

What was your reaction?

What happened in the days that followed?


Training

Describe your training? Where was it and how long was it?

What weapons did you train with?

Do you feel you were well prepared for what you faced in combat?

What was the most helpful part of your training?

What are some of the things from your training that stand out in your memory?

What was the specific unit(s) that you were assigned to?


Frontline and Battles

What was your first combat experience like?

What did you feel when you were first fired at?

When did you first fire in anger?

Describe your living conditions while on assignment.

Can you describe your feelings during a mission or battle?

How did you cope with the fear of missions or battles?

What was your primary job during missions?

Were you ever wounded?


Military Service

What was your squadron/division/platoons job during the battle?

What branch of the service were you in? Why did you choose the branch that you did?

What was the mission of your unit?

What were your rank and your job?

Did you serve overseas during the war? Where were you?


Weapons

What was your primary weapon?

Did you feel it was effective?

What other weapons did you use?

What was th single most fearsome weapon the enemy used against you?

What other weapons did you have to deal with?


D-Day Invasion Only

How were you trained for the invasion?

How did you get to the Normandy beaches?

What was your job on D-Day?

What were your experiences in the first hours of the invasion?

How did your unit achieve its objective?

What is your most vivid memory about the invasion?


Hiroshima (WWII)

How did you hear about the bombing of Hiroshima? Where were you?

How did you react to the news?

Do you think the US was justified in the use on the A-Bomb?


Victory, Surrender & Peace (WWII)

How did you find out about the surrender of Germany?

What did you do on V-E Day?

How did you find out about the surrender of Japan?

What did you do on V-J Day?

What happened on the day you (or a loved one) came home?

What were the holidays like in 1945?

What were you hopes for the future?


Victory, Surrender & Peace (other conflicts)

How did you find out about the end of the war?

What did you do on your last day of service?

What happened on the day you (or a loved one) came home?

What were you hopes for the future?


Impact

What was your happiest (funniest or saddest) memory of the war?

Were you afraid? What was your biggest fear?

What do you think your biggest accomplishment was?

What impact did your unit have on the outcome of the war?

What were you most proud of during your military service?


Follow Up

What would you want people to know about this time in history?

Describe any friendships you made during the war.

What would you have changed about your war experience if you could?

Did you ever doubt that your side, (Axis, Allies, other) would succeed in winning the war?

What mistakes do you think the military made, if any, during the war.

Do you think the war could have been prevented?

What had changed and/or what was different when you got home from the war?

Did anything happen during the war that affected you for the rest of your life? How did your experiences in combat (WWII, Vietnam, Iraq, etc) affect the rest of your life?

What do you think the biggest misconception about your war (WWII, Vietnam, Iraq, etc) is?

Do you think the war was worth the price?

Do you think fighting in the war was the right thing to do?

What important question did I forget to ask you? Is there something else you’d like to share with us?

====================


Not bad for my 3,000th post eh? :otto:

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#2 Otto

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Posted 27 July 2007 - 11:50 PM

Some additional info I found very helpful.

Advice from Stephen Ambrose:

Veterans often say that they don't need to do an oral history because they weren't in combat, or they don't feel that what they did was all that important. Well that's not true. Regardless of what you did or where you were stationed, your history is important. The history of WWII is only now being written. In the coming decades historians will ask lots of new questions. I don't know what those questions will be, but I'm sure they will be focused on a lot more than combat.

Please take some time to sit down with a tape recorder and talk about your experiences. It is vitally important.

Veterans often ask me how to do an oral history. The guiding rule is that you talk about whatever was important to you at the time. Begin with a description of who you were before you enlisted; include a discussion of where and when you were born. Then carry forward with your training. What was your specialty? When did you ship overseas and where did you go? Tell me what no one else can: about your emotions, about the taste, touch, and smell of daily life. Tell me all about the people you knew, your buddies, your unit.

As you relate what happened, remember that we are not simply interested in tales of combat. Tell me about your leaves, your recreation, your promotions, about all the days you spent in transit or simply waiting at a base. Tell me what you thought was significant. Tell us about the equipment that you used. Did it work well? Was the enemies' equipment better? Were you married before you left?

Of course, if you were in combat, I want to know. What happened on your first invasion? When did you get fired at? When did you first fire in anger? What happened in the campaign that followed? What did you eat? Who got wounded? How good was your C.O.? And the other officers? Where and when did you sleep? Charge forward? Receive a counter attack? Where and when did relief come and what did you do? After you've done that, gone on to the next engagement and so forth. Don't forget to add a bit about what you've done since the war and how you feel about your experiences now.

Take your time. Turn on the tape recorder and start talking. It seems to help having a daughter, a grandson, your wife, or an old friend in the room. I find that it usually takes an hour before the memories start flooding back. When you get tired, I suggest that you wait a day, then repeat the process. Pull out old photos; look at maps; call a friend from your unit; you're bound to add some more details.

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#3 Skipper

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Posted 28 July 2007 - 08:15 AM

This is true for veterans but even for civilians. They can tell you all about the bombings, as if it were yesterday. Something they will never forget.
On monday I have an appointment with a man who saw two Me-109 crash live 63 years ago. He told me his story on the phone and I am damn happy that I have his info that helped me to identify the pilots and he will probably show me the exact crash sites too. Happy 3000th post by the way Otto!

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#4 Zwingli

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Posted 05 October 2007 - 09:00 PM

Otto

Your advice and outline are excellent in my opinion. As I previously said, I am writing a book about my father's wartime exploits and virtually every item you mentioned is being covered in my book.

One other suggestion, if you are recording wartime history with a veteran, it also helps to do research with respect to their units/squadrons/missions etc. As my father has said so many times during our journey together, "honey, do you know how difficult it is at my age to remember all the details from 63 years ago?" I have found that by providing him with information on various missions, otu's comrades etc., that memories seem to come flooding back.

Kind regards

Leslie
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#5 Otto

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Posted 31 March 2008 - 05:06 AM

Great advice Leslie and I fully agree. Known background information on a given unit's activities can be extremely helpful in rounding out a story and providing important reminders for events long past.

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#6 bigfun

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Posted 31 March 2008 - 05:15 PM

Great advice!!
This is very timely for me!!

Thanks!!!
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#7 Otto

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Posted 27 November 2008 - 06:25 PM

As the 70th anniversary of the war approaches, I thought I might mention this thread again.

Wartime exploits are always the initial focus of a veteran's history, but we must not forget the time before and after service. In my opinion, these pre-war and post-war periods really put their service in a relevant context.

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#8 macrusk

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Posted 02 April 2009 - 03:14 AM

Thanks again for the question guide Otto. I'm using it as a framework for questions I'm preparing to ask at the reunion in April of my Dad's artillery battery. Don't know how many of the Veterans are still left, but hopefully there shall be some with whom I can talk. Great hint too to read anything possible on the history of the regiment before I sit down with them. I'll have to reread the regimental history and a couple of other books to have my own knowledge fresh.
Regards, Michelle

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#9 Heidi

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Posted 02 April 2009 - 08:13 AM

great input of questions,i put them to good useage. ok,how do you know if a certain member on here is a war veterain? and do they like other members asking them questions? (i don't want to anouy or upset any vets)
i am an expert in asking questions lol,both my grandfathers past away before i was born,so i never had a real connection to ww2.so that's why i ask so many questions on ww2.
I ame an damneed Idiyot.

Regards Hiedi.

#10 Slipdigit

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Posted 02 April 2009 - 02:15 PM

great input of questions,i put them to good useage. ok,how do you know if a certain member on here is a war veterain? and do they like other members asking them questions? (i don't want to anouy or upset any vets)
i am an expert in asking questions lol,both my grandfathers past away before i was born,so i never had a real connection to ww2.so that's why i ask so many questions on ww2.

Their user name is in BLUE and underneath it, their title is "WWII Veteran."

Their threads are found here Honor, Service and Valor - World War II Forums

Best Regards,  
JW :slipdigit:

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#11 BulletProofPoet

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Posted 15 July 2009 - 11:05 PM

Than you very much. This will be an incredible help as I work on my project. I was brainstorming some questions to ask. Great job.

#12 duckydps

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Posted 11 October 2009 - 09:52 PM

All of this is very important... esp. the tape recorder part.... I wish my granddad would have had time to do so. He wasn't able to before he passed. I have a very short recording my cousin did when he was young for school and the stories he told me I have since written in a "book" form.... My book will prob always be a work in progress.

Soon I will be interviewing my granddads good friend who was in the 101st Airborne. It should be really fun!

#13 92GTA

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Posted 12 November 2009 - 04:47 PM

Just found this!

I'm going to follow it with my father! He refuses to even talk about anything that happened to him or his friends during the war but this does a great job of pussy footing around subjects like that to get other info.

I'll definently use a recorder!

#14 519th Andrew

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Posted 24 November 2009 - 06:26 PM

May I suggest The Oral History Manual, by Barbara Summer as a reference for the method of collecting an oral history?

There is a whole science in the academic field of oral histories. My initial interviews were very hap hazard. I didn't even record the conversation! I just took notes as fast as I could. The guidelines in this book were very helpful. I invested in a tape recorder with a phone attachment, and I became more studious about recording the dates and times of my interviews, getting written permission to use their words, etc.

I agree that an interviewer will need to get the guest warmed up in order to get good answers. I found that if I revisited the same topic several times over a span of a few days that my grandfather remembered more info each time.
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#15 sswrecker

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Posted 11 February 2010 - 09:08 AM

G'day everyone, happy to be a new member and quite excited to draw in some great information about the second world war, and this thread has come at a perfect time. I've started to put in motion access to a former partners Grandfather who I have very fond memories of, and recall hearing some great stories from his experiences during WWII . These questions and and replys will help me greatly so thanks to you all and great stuff Otto.

#16 Patricia Temples

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Posted 06 January 2011 - 12:43 AM

For the past year I have been writing down the memories of a 90-year-old WWII veteran. Not only have we covered the war, but he became Career Army and we have covered that as well. We have reached a conclusion point, but we have not really wrapped up the memoirs. Tonight I found the interview question guide and I am thrilled. While we have covered many of the things on that guide, there are some key questions that need to be answered that will put the icing on the cake. We had both been struggling with how to end this (now) 283 page document. Thank you for such a great guide.

I want to also say that I started this endeavor with a digital recorder on the table. Each interview was recorded, then transcribed as my friend spoke it. It has been an invaluable way to proceed. My recorder plugs into my computer, where I have downloaded all the interviews, then I just listen and type. We couldn't have done it any other way. It is his words, his memories....I am just the typist.

#17 Slipdigit

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Posted 06 January 2011 - 02:02 AM

Patricia, that is a great thing you have done. Any sections you would like to post here would be great.

At 238 pages, have you considered publishing it?

I am in the midst of writing a book about a good man from my church. When we started talking, he said he didn't think we'd get enough for a book. As we talked, he found that he would remember more and more, little things that he'd never thought about. He told me yesterday that he has really enjoyed talking with me, because I helped him remember so much. Like you, I have digitally recorded his "ramblings, to the tune of about 40-50 hours.

Edited by Slipdigit, 06 January 2011 - 02:09 AM.

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Best Regards,  
JW :slipdigit:

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#18 rkline56

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Posted 05 June 2011 - 10:02 PM

Gentlemen,

I encourage any of you who know veterans, if you have not already done so, to see if they could PLEASE submit their oral or written history(ies) to the Library of Congress, Veterans History Project. The special features of Ken Burn's - The War documentary contains a link to pbs that has a standard interview form, that can supplement Otto's fine guide from this thread. Anyone who would like help compiling their history would be doing future generations a great service by allowing them to honor you and your comrades as we have been so fortunate to do in our time.

THE WAR | PBS

Ken Burns' "The War" (Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress)

"As part of the community engagement campaign for THE WAR, individual public television stations nationwide reached out to a broad range of veterans and their families to capture the stories of World War II. The response was phenomenal. Over 3,000 original WWII stories were submitted." Source: LOC, Ken Burns, VHP

THE WAR . Veterans History Project | PBS
Bottom left of this page. Their is a link to a pdf Project Field Guide for conducting and preserving veteran interviews. With enough interest we could possibly persuade Mr. Burns to produce a Second Volume - The War.

I will see what resources The LOC has on the VHP and post links as applicable. Barring that I cannot wait to get over to DC and see how it is progressing.

Richard

#19 karenlalaniz

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Posted 09 December 2011 - 09:17 PM

These are great questions. It's so hard for people to know where to start. My father said all my life, "I wasn't IN the war." What he meant was that he wasnt' in hand-to-hand combat and he believed that only those who were could say they were in the war. But he was aboard submarines and ships while Kamikazi's blackened the sky and shrapnel was flying everywhere. His comrades engaged in all the fire power while his team copied and deciphered the code. So, you can't tell me he wasn't "in" the war. But it's an argument I'll never win. Thanks for the questions! ~Karen
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#20 Ron Goldstein

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Posted 20 May 2016 - 12:59 PM

At my present age of 92, I've recently adopted a new policy regarding answering questionnares sent in by hopeful posters.

Simply put, I now think that those seeking an easy answer should be obliged to first engage in some honest research.

In order to point them in the right direction I offer the following document that I have just posted on the "sister" site, namely ww2talk.com
http://ww2talk.com/f...elating-to-ww2/

I'm sure you will understand that I wish to make life a little easier for myself. :)

Ron
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I am a British veteran who was called up into the Forces in October 1942. I served in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, Egypt, Austria & Germany, firstly in the 49th Light Ack Ack and then in the 4th Queen's Own Hussars.
I was one of five brothers who served in WW2, one of whom was in the RAF and was killed over Nuremberg on the 16th of March 1945.
I am a long standing member on the ww2talk.com site.
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