A Narrative History of the Montana Heritage Project

A Learning Expedition into World War II

Christa Umphrey

Ronan High School


Before beginning a study of World War II and its impact on the local community, freshmen at Ronan High School wrote questions they had about the topic. “What country is Pearl Harbor in?” and “Why did we bomb it?” were among the questions they asked. It was clear that a slow, systematic look at the war was in order.

They began by looking through dozens of books with connections to the war. Their job was to find questions. They came up with a few hundred questions for which they wanted answers. They read excerpts from Studs Terkelís The Good War, Ellie Wieselís Night, and John Herseyís Hiroshima to deepen their understanding. They visited the World War II collection at the Miracle of America Museum in Polson. Later in the fall, military personnel visited the school and created a mock boot camp, including drills, and instruction on military history, the ranking system, first aid, and military jobs and duties. They even provided MREs (Meals Ready to Eat). Throughout the year, speakers with personal experiences of the war visited the classroom. Students read excerpts from the Diary of Anne Frank before attending the University of Montanaís production of the play.

Many interviews were recorded with local veterans and other community members who were living on the homefront during the war. Students augmented oral history research with archival research at the Mansfield Library at the University of Montana. They investigated such topics as Ronan high school sports during the war, the impacts of the war on local agriculture, local entertainment during the war, the effects on families, local conscientious objectors, the internment of Italians and Japanese at Fort Missoula, and rationing system.

The unit culminated with an open house at which the gymnasium was converted to a temporary museum. Dozens of exhibits, essays, maps, PowerPoint presentations, musical performances, and photo essays were on display. Students were on hand to explain their projects, the band performed the World War II piece “Dresden in Memoriam,” by a Montana composer, and the freshmen choirs performed a USO show. While the English classes were researching and discussing the war, the drama and choir classes used their historical knowledge to put together a performance that reflected the time period. The choir classes rehearsed music from the 1940s and the drama classes designed sets, rounded up costumes, and rehearsed a play that portrayed a family in the 1940s reacting to the war spreading around them. The music and drama departments collaborated on staging the musical Iíll Be Home For Christmas. As the family in the play learned about Pearl Harbor and listened for other updates on the radio, the choirs provided the 1940s radio commercials and performances.

“I can honestly say that I got more out of this past semester than any other in school,” said student Heidi Franklin at the end of the project. “By focusing on a subject and studying everything about it, we got more than when we just learn bits and pieces.”

To print a final report for the year-end binder, click here.
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