By Melanie Petrucci, Senior Community Reporter
Shrewsbury – When Shrewsbury High School (SHS) history teacher Michael Carpentier was in high school, he interviewed a World War II veteran for a project in his AP U.S. history class.
“It was such a moving experience,” he recalled. “He was in the 10th Mountain Division in Italy and the stories he told were so engrossing and emotional.”
His class then had to do a project that connected how a veteran’s experience related to the town of Gardner throughout the war.
“When I started teaching here five years ago, I wanted to continue to do something that had students and veterans come together to tell their stories,” he noted.
When teaching U.S. History II last year, just as he was concluding the Vietnam War unit, he reached out to local historian Michael Perna to see if he could help identify Vietnam veterans to come in and meet with his students.
“We got a half-dozen or so who did and that went well,” Perna said.
The students interviewed the vets in groups and made a PowerPoint presentation about their experiences.
“I then contacted Perna again early this year and said I wanted to do something similar. I asked him if there was a way he could help get people again. Perna said, ‘how about I get you some World War II vets?’” Carpentier explained.
Perna was able to put him in touch with about nine of the 12 World War II vets that he knows in town.
Of the veterans they contacted, only three were physically able to visit the school to be interviewed. The interviews were recorded and the students then conducted additional research to include in the presentation.
“For instance, if a veteran said ‘I flew in the battle of Midway and I was a fighter pilot.’ one of the students looked up what it was like to be a fighter pilot in World War II in the Pacific; one looked up specifically about the Battle of Midway; one looked up the kind of plane he flew and how it was produced,” Carpentier said. “So, as [the veteran] is telling his story and goes off on these tangents, the students pick up on them and add in pictures, old videos and their own research to being his story to life.”
Some of the veterans brought their own photos and medals. One veteran brought his daughter who said that she was hearing many of her father’s war stories for the first time.
“It’s been amazing to watch – especially the therapeutic nature of having these vets talk …and the students were blown away by the stories that were told,” Carpentier stated.
He noted that the vets that were contacted were very excited about this project. They’ve wanted to do something like this and were eager to have their stories recorded.
Carpentier said that each veteran will receive a copy of the raw video of their interview as well as a finished version. Copies will also be stored with the Shrewsbury Historical Society and he hopes to be able to coordinate a showing of these videos for the public to see.
“It was a great way to preserve this important part of our history, as the WWII vets are all in their mid to late 90s,” Perna said. “We are rapidly losing them.”