Bishop Seabury sophomore tasked with gathering WWII veterans’ stories
photo by: Contributed photo; Shutterstock photo
A Lawrence teen has been selected to join the last class of youths entrusted to seek out and record the stories of the greatest generation.
Bishop Seabury Academy sophomore Lyle Griggs, 15, was selected as one of eight students nationwide to serve as a student ambassador for the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.
Over the next year, he’s expected to interview and record oral histories of five WWII veterans from around the area. But he’s hoping to talk to more than that — a task that he said will be difficult, “but I certainly want to do that because it’s something that I’m interested in and passionate about.”
This is the program’s last year, Lyle said, partly because its grant money has run out, but also because it keeps getting harder each year for students to find surviving veterans who can provide a reliable narrative. So time is of the essence, and he’s hoping to get his message out to the community.
“The main work is finding World War II veterans because there really aren’t very many left and they’re all in their 90s,” Lyle said. “So finding veterans who are lucid, finding veterans who have the ability to talk to me and have the ability to give me useful information, and correct information — that’s going to be the difficult part.”
Lyle has history coded into his DNA — both parents majored in the subject, he said — but he also described himself as “quite environmentalist.”
“Pretty much all my research projects that I’ve ever done have centered around something having to do with environmental law or environmental history,” he said.
That interest played well into his winning entry in the 2018 Kansas History Day competition. Lyle took first in the Senior Individual Websites category for his site, “The Echo Park Dam Controversy: Conflict and Disastrous Compromise on the Colorado River.”
His thesis statement reads, in part, “the Echo Park conflict set a strong precedent against damming rivers in national parks. Yet as crucial as this battle was to the development of the American preservation movement, it ended in an environmentally disastrous compromise: the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam.”
That win sent him on to the national competition at the University of Maryland, where he placed fifth, in June. It also qualified him to apply for the student ambassadorship, which would allow him to pursue another historical topic he’s passionate about: WWII, and the United States’ participation in wars abroad.
Lyle found out in November that he’d been selected, and he doesn’t intend to procrastinate. As of September, the museum estimates on its website that nearly 350 WWII veterans die each day, and there are fewer than 5,000 alive in Kansas.
“Within a few years, going to be very, very difficult to find anybody,” Lyle said.
Having strong background knowledge going into the interviews — about both the interview subjects and the war itself — will be key for Lyle. For instance, he’d be reasonably skeptical if someone were to tell him they’d fought in the Battle of the Bulge and the Battle of Iwo Jima, since they were happening on opposite sides of the world in roughly the same time frame.
“Essentially, people have read things and they’ve basically mixed things up in their heads and they can’t really give you a credible account,” he said. “But if you do enough research on the person ahead of time, you can confirm that what they’re saying, what they’re telling you is the whole truth.”
The museum has given the students pointers so they can properly assess credibility, Lyle said.
Another issue he could run into would be finding people who have already been interviewed. He plans to keep his scope within this region — going as far as Kansas City or Topeka, and maybe Wichita, but ideally keeping it closer to home.
“I would love to be able to focus in on local residents,” he said. “… I would like to look at people locally whose stories haven’t been shared yet.”
According to a news release from the museum, its collection holds nearly 10,000 first-person accounts of “the war that changed the world.” Student ambassadors like Lyle have collected more than 100 of those since the program’s launch in 2015.
If you are or you know a World War II veteran in the area who would like to tell his or her story to be preserved in the National WWII Museum, Lyle can be reached at 785-766-6398 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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