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Nov. 20, 2002
OSWEGO -- This semester, SUNY Oswego students conducted interviews on past wars to help those studying history in the future.
History faculty members Timothy Thurber, Gwen Kay and Mary McCune asked students to interview a veteran or someone involved in one of America's 20th century wars. Thurber's class concentrated on World War II, Kay's students looked at that war and Korea, while McCune's participants could choose any 20th century war. The interviews are part of the Library of Congress' nationwide oral history project to compile an archive of taped interviews in Washington, D.C., Thurber said.
"Students uncovered many very interesting, and often very moving, stories," Thurber said. In addition to telling a story, students were asked to think critically about using oral history as a way to learn about the past, he said.
"Several students wrote about how this assignment deepened their interest in World War II, and that was heartening to see as well," Thurber said.
This was the case for sophomore English writing arts major Kelly Kristine Palka of Wynantskill, who interviewed Leo Patrick Dean of the 517th Parachute Infantry Regimental Combat Team in World War II.
"His favorite topic of conversation was the 'Champagne Campaign' which was an air invasion of southern France which fell under the historical shadow of Normandy, which occurred a few months earlier," Palka said.
Interviewing Dean "provided me with a face to put behind what I learned in history books and also helped me fill in some gaps that history books leave," Palka said. "Emotional connection to the war helps the interviewee to tell a more detailed, more raw and true, personalized story, something never found in any other source."
Sophomore communication studies major Jennifer Perrault looked within her own family, interviewing her great-uncle John Clark.
"He was in the 1st Infantry Division of the Coast Artillery Corps and was involved in many famous battles, including Northern Africa, Sicily, the D-Day invasion and the Battle of the Bulge," said Perrault, who hails from Binghamton. "He was in the war for the entire duration and came out with only a broken finger, due to shrapnel."
Perrault said the project helped her learn more about World War II than she would from a textbook. "Knowing personal stories and seeing the pain and the pride on my great-uncle's face really made the war seem so much more important, and I feel a true sense of pride for his accomplishments almost 60 years ago," she said.
Kimberly Zaccagnino, a sophomore accounting major from Middletown, received a different perspective on the war by interviewing sisters Rosemary Murray and M. Carol McLaughlin. Murray was a purchasing clerk for supplies at Fort Ontario who later worked at an Air Force base in Syracuse. McLaughlin attended college at Oswego from 1941 to 1945.
The sisters discussed such topics as changes in society, food rationing and "the shortage of guys," Zaccagnino said. "This interview has truly made me appreciate and gain understanding of Oswego history, women's history and World War II."
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