Students anticipate interviews with World War II veterans

October 31, 2007

A half-dozen students from the College of Communications at Penn State plan an ambitious effort to conduct 24 interviews in two days with Union League of Philadelphia World War II veterans as part of an ongoing project to compile oral histories for the Library of Congress.

For the past four years, Penn State students have participated in The Veterans History Project (information is available at online) sponsored by the Library of Congress. Each of those nearly 40 interviews has produced a completed video that has been logged with the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., as well as with the Pennsylvania Military Museum in Boalsburg and at Pattee Library on the University Park campus.

"The oral histories are a part of my ongoing research and public scholarship endeavors with my classes," said Maria Cabrera-Baukus, a senior lecturer in the College of Communications. Students in her sections of COMM 383 Production Administration have been helping with the project since the fall 2003 semester.

"It's one of the ways we provide a real-world experience, and the students enjoy meeting the men and women from a different generation," Baukus said. "Sometimes the veterans that we interview have never talked about their war experiences with anyone.

"It's gratifying to see them open up and leave their stories as a legacy to their families. It's also gratifying to make their stories accessible to future historians or researchers. At the same time, the students practice skills necessary for their careers and learn a lot from the interviews."

The visit to Philadelphia, scheduled Nov. 9 to 12 and sponsored by the Union League (see online), provides students with the opportunity to add a large influx of additional interviews to the project.

In addition, the Union League has coordinated a lunch and reception honoring respected documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, director of "The War," which has been airing nationwide on the Public Broadcasting Service since September. The session with Burns is scheduled for Nov. 12, and the students will have the opportunity to meet Burns during the event.

Three two-person teams will tackle the schedule of 12 interviews each day (Nov. 10 and Nov. 11) in Philadelphia. Students assisting with the project are:

-- Mary Anderson, a junior from Lansdale;

-- Brad Cieszynski, a senior from York Haven;

-- Heather Curtis, a senior from State College;

-- Andrew Eckman, a senior from Pleasanton, Calif.;

-- Nigel McFarlane, a senior from State College; and

-- Wanda Timms, a junior from the Bronx, N.Y.

A fourth camera operator, Cabrera-Baukus's son, Alexander, a senior at State College Area High School, will film the memorabilia provided by the veterans.

Before conducting an interview, students find out as much as possible about the war veterans through initial interviews and related research. As part of the on-camera interview, veterans are asked to bring along any diaries, letters, memorabilia, photographs or uniforms.

A typical on-camera interview -- for which the students must log every question and answer for the Library of Congress -- lasts two to three hours and, after editing, usually results in an hourlong video.

The Union League, founded in 1862 as a patriotic society to support the policies of President Abraham Lincoln, has hosted U.S. presidents, heads of state, industrialists, entertainers and visiting dignitaries from around the globe to its historic location in Philadelphia. It also has given loyal support to the American military in each conflict since the Civil War and continues to be driven by its founding motto, "Love of Country Leads." Early efforts and influence of the Union League of Philadelphia laid the philosophical foundation of other Union Leagues across the nation.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 19, 2009