California State University, Fresno students interviewed more than 80 San Joaquin Valley military veterans for the Central California Veterans Oral History Project, recording their stories to be archived in the Henry Madden Library and enhancing the students’ appreciation of history.
Dr. Gary Rice and Alice Daniels of the Department of Mass Communication and Journalism directed 45 students in mass communication and journalism, history, sociology and political science. A grant from the Office of the Provost provided recording equipment and printing services for the interviews and transcripts that will be permanently housed in the library.
Working with local veterans’ organizations, Rice compiled a list of interviewees willing to tell students their service stories from World War II through the two Iraq wars.
“Everyone has a story to tell,” Rice said, “we’re just helping them tell it and preserving it for posterity.”
“Considering the tremendous number of veterans in our area,” Rice added, “the project is an excellent public service and gives students a chance to hear and compile history from the people who made it.”
“There were Pearl Harbor veterans, a survivor of the Bataan Death March, blimp pilots, Battle of the Bulge participants, Tet Offensive veterans, code interceptors, bombardiers, recent returnees from Iraq, women veterans from World War II and on and on,” he said.
For students such as Brooke Rolfs, who interviewed World War II veteran Art Steffensen, working on a project of this caliber has been an once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“You don’t get to truly appreciate an individual who has served until you sit down and listen to their story,” Rolfs said. “Mr. Steffensen is an amazing man, and what he did – and has done – for our country is something we should all be proud of.”
Steffensen has been president of the Fresno chapter of the Battle of the Bulge Association since 2003.
Rice said the project allowed students to step out of the classroom and fulfill the university’s mission of engagement with the community while sharpening their interviewing skills, learning how to do a formal oral history task and organizing components of telling someone else’s story.
The students completed the project within reporting, editing or independent-study courses.
“It’s my hope that this project continues for semesters to come,” Rice said.
Students and some of the veterans they interviewed will present their material to the Madden Library on Tuesday, May 11.
For more information on the San Joaquin Valley Veterans Oral History Project, contact Rice at firstname.lastname@example.org or 559.278.2026.