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Service-Learning in Composition and Creative Photography
World War II Project

Sponsored by the Nebraska Consortium for Service-Learning in Higher Education and Chadron State College (CSC), Chadron, Nebraska


John Macek, Chadron, Neb. (deceased) with Shanele Atchinson, photo by Andrew Bottrell

Service-learning is a fairly broad educational concept that entails the application of knowledge and skills acquired in the academic setting to some form of community service. During the spring semester of 2000, 19 students from Dr. Kathy Agar’s Composition II class at Chadron State College (CSC) in Chadron, Nebraska, interviewed 44 World War II veterans and war effort supporters who reside in and around the Nebraska Panhandle area. We hoped to meet a community need for recognizing and preserving the personal narratives of World War II survivors. In addition, we hoped to develop a spirit of community service among our students by providing them with an opportunity to hear about the contributions and sacrifices made by an older generation, including, in some cases, their own grandparents.

Subjects include numerous decorated combat veterans, a member of the Merchant Marine, military wives, WACs, cooks, medical technicians, women who ran the ranches or worked in munitions factories at home, a military band member, and others. For the first time in our area, Native American veterans were included in these interviews.

Professor Alan Schoer of the CSC Art Department designed a follow-up project in which his fall 2000 Creative Photography students met with the interview subjects and did casual portraits of them. In some cases, older photographs or news photographs were used. The students then used both digital and traditional photographic techniques to make the prints in the exhibit. In November 2000, the Nebraska Consortium for Service-Learning in Higher Education arranged for the CSC students’ work to be exhibited at the Nebraska State Capitol Rotunda to honor the World War II veterans from our region. The current exhibit is a work in progress, consisting of one-page excerpts from the essays framed with photographs of the interviewees.

On the whole, it would be fair to say that the students fell in love with their subjects. They wanted to tell the stories, to capture the faces, and to make their work worthy of the men and women who inspired it. Nor was the urgency implied by the high mortality rate of WW II survivors lost on them. For a few hours at least, these young men and women shared the triumphs and the sadness of those whom Tom Brokaw has designated the “greatest generation.” These writers represent the sentiments of their classmates:

I found in the interviews that there are many who think that what they did was not that important. The stories they had to share may not be of major battles, but they are still filled with personal sacrifice. . . . But being able to interview and write about the interview means the story will not be lost completely.
Hap Staman, Gordon, NE

These two men put their lives on the line for other people’s freedom. They are heroes and extremely dedicated to their country (the United States). I was sad when I met Ted because of his physical and mental conditions. Ron, on the other hand, is still going strong and is only slowed by arthritis. Ron and Ted have already outlived most World War II veterans. I guess they were taught to fight!
Nathen Gortemaker, Oshkosh, NE

As a student, I was humbled by the bravery and sacrifices of the veterans and those on the home front. . . . Not only was this project rewarding for me, but I believe it was also rewarding for the veterans and their families. The willingness of these people to share their stories shows that they want to be heard.
Carrie Child, Gordon, NE

Photograph of Chester Dilday by Trent Shearer

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The WWII project was jointly funded by Chadron State
College and the Nebraska Consortium for Service-Learning in Higher Education. CSC is a state supported institution of higher education located in Chadron, Nebraska. It is the only four year college serving the western half of the state. Due to its location in the northwest corner of the state, CSC also serves a significant number of students from the surrounding states of Colorado, Wyoming, and South Dakota. For more information about CSC call 1-800-CHADRON or visit http://www.csc.edu