Previously, we discussed ways to use the National Park Service’s system of national historical landmarks as a teaching tool. Another way to connect to the nation’s shared heritage through the NPS is by making use of its Oral History resources.
There are two ways to use this site: reading or listening to oral histories gathered by NPS researchers, and by using the resources here to guide your students in creating their own oral histories. Oral histories can really make history come alive for students, by allowing ordinary people to describe events and situations as they appeared to participants, in ordinary language.
The Cold War was a very tense period in American history, when the threat of total nuclear war was never very far away from conscious thought. For examples of oral histories that put a reader (or listener) right in the action, check out the examples from the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site in South Dakota. The featured photo above of the Deputy Commander’s Key Turn switch at Launch Control Center Delta-01 is from this site.
The members of the Air Force who served in the silos and support structures of the South Dakota Minuteman Missile Field included David Blackhurst, who remembers his job as a missile crew commander:
There were two members on the crew, a commander and the deputy. The commander’s job basically was to direct within a flight of ten missiles at one of the launch control centers. We were down in the capsule for, at that time we were down there on about twelve-hour shifts. We went out for, I think it was about a day and a half, two days, It must have been about three days. It was a three-day tour and we came home. During that time we would basically sit on alert waiting for something to happen.
Read the entire interview here: http://www.nps.gov/mimi/historyculture/upload/Blackhurst,David_19_May_1999.pdf
Have your students interview older relatives, family friends, neighbors, or nursing home residents about the events of the Cold War, and use the interviews to build a composite picture of the fear that governed that era. An overview is available from History Matters, and you should discuss and follow the Oral History Association’s statement on Principles and Best Practices.