Wreaths Across America's TEACH Program Partners with the Library of Congress VHP Project

Guest Submission: TEACH Partner Library of Congress Veterans History Project

As Veterans Day approaches, educators around the country, many of whom have family members who are veterans or served themselves, search for meaningful ways to show their students what it truly means to serve your country. What better way to do this than to have your students hear about military service straight from the veterans themselves?

Since the year 2000, the Library of Congress Veterans History Project has been making this possible by collecting stories from veterans going all the way back to World War I and making those stories available to researchers, students, teachers, and anyone interested in learning more about the wartime experience. The way that we do that is by archiving oral histories from veterans as well as original primary source materials like photos, letters, diaries, journals, and memoirs. Our collections include stories from over 115,000 veterans representing every major conflict from WWI to the present.

VHP primary source materials on display at the Library of Congress

As a Liaison Specialist for VHP, I’ve interviewed over 80 veterans, and I can personally attest that there is no better way to put yourself in the boots of our nation’s veterans than to hear them tell their story, which is why I’m so excited for VHP’s partnership with Wreaths Across America. One of the most common things I hear in my job is, “I wish I had known about VHP earlier!” Often times from family members who were unable to record the stories of Grandpa or Grandma before they passed, but also from teachers who have just realized they could have been using VHP’s wealth of classroom resources all along.

Whether it’s our research guides, story maps, or lesson plans, VHP provides hours of meaningful, engaging class content focused on remembering our nation’s veterans. We even provide guest lectures for high school classrooms to teach them how to record the stories of veterans in their communities so that they can not only use our collections for research and instruction, but also contribute their own materials to the Project. One school that has taken full advantage of this opportunity is ELCO High School in Pennsylvania, which has contributed nearly 300 oral histories to VHP over the years, culminating each year of interviews with a class trip to Washington DC to tour the Library and donate the year’s interviews. Nearly every single student who attends says that doing VHP interviews is the highlight of their year, and it’s something that any classroom can do!

ELCO High School students pose in front of the Library of Congress after donating their oral history interviews

And how can we talk about the amazing stories collected by classrooms without telling at least one of them? Jonathan Ray Bickel was a WWII veteran who was interviewed by ELCO High School students, who described himself as “a Pennsylvania Dutch farm boy” caught up in the thick of history. Jonathan worked in a factory making engine parts for military planes and decided he wanted to fly them instead of build them. After extensive training in Florida, Georgia, and Texas, he earned his wings just days after the D-Day invasions, but in his own words, “they saved some of the war for us!” Flying B-24s out of Norwich, England, Bickel’s crew dropped thousands of bombs on France and Germany, with Bickel manning the bomb sights. After miraculously surviving 35 missions unscathed, Bickel was reassigned to a training and transportation squadron stateside, and spent the rest of the war relocating planes, safely out of danger.

Bickel kept a record of every day he served, every mission he flew, and every weather delay he experienced, and it is all part of his VHP collection. He was able to share his story in exacting detail to the grateful students of ELCO High School, and you students can have the same incredible experience.

Jonathan Bickel in his Army Air Corps uniform

What better example can I give of the perfect Veterans Day activity for your classroom? VHP is proud to partner with Wreaths Across America so that we can bring this activity and these experiences to as many teachers and students as possible. If you’re interested in taking advantage of VHP’s programs or hosting a guest lecture, please contact VHP at vohp@loc.gov.