Auburn High School students preserve veterans’ stories through class project

Auburn High School studentsinterview Vietnam veteran Jim McGriff and his wife for a history project that documents veterans' stories.

Auburn High School studentsinterview Vietnam veteran Jim McGriff and his wife for a history project that documents veterans’ stories.

By Danielle Davis, Bayonet & Saber /

Every one has a story.

In 2014, Dr. Blake Busbin, an 11th-grade Advanced Placement U.S. History teacher at Auburn High School in Auburn, Alabama, created an oral history project so that his students could document the stories of military veterans.

“The initial goal of the project was to be able to preserve the stories of veterans in the East Alabama and West Georgia region. During the projects, students work in teams. They also collaborate with university professors on how to successfully lead interviews,” said Busbin.

“I wanted the students and myself to give back to the veterans in the community. The participating veteran receives a copy of the oral history audio and we also have a website for people in the community who want to hear these stories,” he added.

Busbin’s family history is one of military service.

“Both of my grandfathers were veterans. One served during the 1950s and the other during World War II. I took that for granted. I understood when they served, but never really sat down and talked with them about it. Now I don’t have that opportunity to hear their story and know what they actually did,” Busbin said.

It’s important for the students to learn about the realities of war and the contributions from the military through the voices of those who’ve experienced it themselves, he added.

“This year, Erica Valleta and Bentley Stephenson’s 11th-grade history classes will be joining us on the projects,” said Busbin.

Since the start of the project, Auburn High School students have recorded 161 oral histories of veterans for the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project, said Busbin. For the past two years, the primary focus has been on Vietnam veterans.

“This fall we felt really presented us with an opportunity to honor the legacy of those who’ve been in the modern era of military history. As we recognize the 25th anniversary of Operation Desert Storm along with 15 years of the war on terrorism, we wanted to talk to those who served during this time period, including the other conflicts of the 1990s,” Busbin added.

“Many of my students have described the project as the most powerful learning experience they’ve had all school year,” Busbin said. A lot of them come out of interviews saying ‘I never knew how much they sacrificed.’

“I’ve had students ask to borrow the equipment we use to conduct interviews over the summers. They really develop a passion for this. Several of the students have stayed in touch with the veterans they’ve interviewed,” added Busbin.

“My class began the projects in 2014. I wanted them to connect with the veterans one on one as opposed to your traditional guest speaker in front of a crowd. That way they get a much more intimate and involved conversation,” Busbin said.

Busbin wants veterans on Fort Benning and in the surrounding areas to participate in the interviews being held Sept. 15-16 at Auburn High School. Interview times are 8 a.m., 9:45 a.m., noon and 1:45 p.m.

“While the interview sessions are being conducted, we’ll also be helping the students understand the legacy of fallen heroes during the war on terrorism. We’ll be hosting the Alabama Remembering our Fallen Memorial for two weeks,” Busbin added.

For more information, contact Dr. Blake Busbin at wbbusbin@auburnschools.org or call Auburn High School at 334-887-4970.

To listen to the oral histories and learn more about the Auburn High School Veterans Project, visit http://auburnveteransproject.weebly.com/.

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