(Open Document in MS Word)
Very seldom do people have the opportunity to write something that is very important. You may be the only person to ever write your veteran’s biography and wartime experiences. Oral histories rarely last more that a generation or two and important facts and details are most often lost. Only by writing your veteran’s biography can you ensure that your family and friends will know about his or her experiences for generations to come.
All of the questions provided are not essential. You might be able to simply ask, “Grandpa, tell me about your life and your military experience.” and you will get hours of stories.
On the other hand, you may get very short answers for every question that you ask. You may need to ask every question that is provided below as well as a few of your own to get enough information to write their biography.
Your questions may total hundreds of words and your veteran’s answers may total in the thousands. Be prepared to write a lot. If you write quickly in shorthand, slow down and be careful when you write dates, unit numbers, the spellings of names, etc. Some questions are likely to be answered in one or two words, while others might prompt lengthy stories. Bring extra paper and have a plan on how you will note where you switch from the interview sheet to your extra paper.
Another option might be to conduct the interview while you are on a computer. This way you can type answers as you interview. If you type faster than you handwrite, this is an especially good idea. Although your veteran’s answers will likely need to be reworded away from interview format, it will save you much typing when you write the biography.
You may want to consider recording your interview with an audio or video device. This way you will be able to play back the recording as you type, and only write what you feel is the most important and interesting. When you begin, it would be wise to take a quick sample recording of your veteran and play it back to ensure that the audio is clear enough to be understood. A significant benefit of this method is that your interview will be more natural. If your veteran is very talkative, it might be difficult to write all that he or she has to say. In addition, your interview recording will likely become a family heirloom.
Be sure to bring a camera and take a picture of you veteran. You may want to bring a map.
Interviewer’s name: __________________________________ Interview Date: _________________
Veteran Biography Interview Questions:
Full Name ___________________________________
Service Branch ___________________________________
Brief Job Description ___________________________________
Where were you born?
Tell me about your parents and siblings.
Where did you grow up?
What schools and colleges did you attend?
Did you like school; were you a good student?
What did you enjoy doing in your youth?
Prewar military experience:
Were you drafted, or did you enlist? Tell me about that experience (including dates).
(If enlisted, ask what motivated them to join the service.)
How old were you when you joined?
Had you ever thought about serving in the military before?
How long had the war been going on before you entered the military, or did it start after?
How did you feel about entering the military during wartime; were you afraid, proud, or perhaps excited?
Where did you receive your basic training? Tell me about that experience.
What job were you trained for?
Did you request your specific job?
Before entering the military, did you have any specialized skills or training that helped you get your job?
After basic training, did you receive any advanced or specific job training?
Tell me about that experience.
Did you make many close friends during these times? Tell me about them.
Tell me about military life during those times.
How was the food?
How were the rules?
What were the hours?
What did you do with your free time?
What kinds of uniforms were issued to you?
What dwellings were provided?
What was the weather like?
Wartime military experience:
How did you travel to the war zone? Tell me about that experience (including dates).
Where did you land, or first arrive in the war zone?
Was this your first experience in a foreign country; what was your first impression?
Where were you stationed?
What was your unit (or ship) named?
When did your tour begin?
How big was your unit (or ship); explain how it was organized.
Tell me about your job duties.
How far were you from the front lines?
Did you ever see or hear the enemy? Tell me about that experience.
What was your most frightening experience?
What was your most interesting experience?
What was your most exhausting experience?
What was your most exciting experience?
Was there any part of your job that you were especially good at?
Was there any part of your job that you especially enjoyed?
What part of your job were you not especially good at?
What part of your job did you least enjoy?
Tell me about your commanding officers.
What battles were you involved in (or did you provide support for)?
What did you live in?
What was the weather like?
Tell me about your best friends.
Have you ever contacted any of your old friends since you were discharged?
Did you ever lose any friends?
Did you ever think that you might not survive?
Did you ever have to change jobs or do a job that you weren’t trained for?
Did you ever meet any POWs?
Did you ever hear any news about the war?
What was the most impressive allied weapon of any sort that you saw?
What was the most impressive enemy weapon of any sort that you saw?
What was the most impressive place that you saw?
Can you show me on a map all of the places that you served? (You may want to bring a map.)
Did you have any contact with civilians; how did they treat you?
Tell me about some funny moments?
How was the food, did you ever eat non military food?
Did you ever have any free time or leave? Tell me about those experiences.
Did you ever meet or see anyone famous? Tell me about that experience.
Did you ever attend a USO show? Tell me about that experience.
Did you regularly write to anyone or regularly receive mail while you were overseas?
How did you feel when your tour ended?
What was the highest rank you received?
Tell me about you promotions.
Did you receive any medals or citations?
Do you have any pictures of yourself while you were serving? (May I see them?)
How did you travel home from the war zone? Tell me about that experience (including dates).
Was there any kind of a homecoming; was anyone waiting for you?
Postwar military experience:
After the war (or your tour) ended, how long did you remain in the military?
What jobs did you do?
What was the highest rank you received?
Where were you stationed; how much did you travel?
What was your favorite place that you were stationed?
Tell me about the highlights of your postwar military experience.
What did you do right after you were discharged?
What was your first job after discharge?
How did you meet your spouse?
When did you marry?
Tell me about your children (and grandchildren).
Tell me about your career(s).
Where have you lived?
What organizations have you belonged to?
What are your hobbies?
Would it be OK to publish your biography on the Internet?