Oral Histories and Historical Memory: The Experiences of Soldiers in the Second World War

The United States entered the Second World War in 1941 after the bombing of Pearl Harbor by Japanese forces on December 7th. In doing so, the United States became one of more than thirty countries who participated in the largest and most lethal war in global history. Total military and civilian deaths during the war, which began in 1939 with the invasion of Poland by Germany, are estimated between 72 to 80 million people. By the time the war concluded with the surrender of the Japanese in 1945, the world had been irrevocably changed. Due to the global nature of the war, many young men and women found themselves fighting on the frontline miles away from home. These soldiers experienced firsthand the horrors of mass modern warfare, and many of them never returned home. Through their stories we find tales of heroism, struggle, sadness, and humanity that allow us to better understand what it was like to live and fight in one of the deadliest wars in modern history. 

Standards & Objectives

Academic standards
Analyze the impact of the Great Depression and the New Deal on the lives of African Americans.
Analyze what a text says explicitly and draw inferences; support an interpretation of a text by citing and synthesizing relevant textual evidence from...
Write informative/explanatory texts to analyze, synthesize, and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the...
Identify the roles and sacrifices of individual American soldiers, as well as the unique contributions of special fighting forces such as the Tuskegee Airmen, the 442nd...
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Learning objectives: 

Students will read or watch oral history material for historical content and knowledge. Students will also analyze oral history materials for perspective and accuracy. Finally, students will explore historical memory and the ways in which the subjects recount their experiences.

Essential and guiding questions: 

What were the experiences of the men and women who served in World War II and how can oral histories by useful in uncovering those experiences? 

Lesson Variations

Blooms taxonomy level: 
Extension suggestions: 


  • H.I.P.P.O. Graphic Organizer
  • Main Questions to Ask Your Oral History Graphic Organizer