A Narrative History of the Montana Heritage Project

One Hundred Years by the Bay

Mary Sullivan

Bigfork High School


Each of the 79 members of the junior class interviewed a veteran and wrote a narrative based on the interview. Learners gathered vivid stories from World War II, Korean, Vietnam and Gulf War veterans. Because of the varying experiences of the veterans, the points of view expressed were diverse, with World War II veterans tending to be strongly patriotic and with Vietnam veterans tending to be quite skeptical.

Stories ranged from the heartwarming to the heartbreaking. Ham Forkner described what happened after his plane was shot down over Holland. “Once on the ground in Holland, I evaded capture. I spent the first few nights in a haystack. The people passed me food through the hedges that divided the fields. Someone brought me a bike and found me a house to stay in. I was kept in a house, in the same room for thirteen months, hiding from the enemy.”

Learners did readings to understand oral history. Studs Terkelís Pulitzer Prize winning book The Good War, an oral history of World War II, proved invaluable. Reading it gave the learners insight into what their work might sound like when finished.

The importance of understanding the historical setting of the oral history was emphasized. Learners practiced trying to see the world from the perspective their subjects. Through class discussions, learners developed the questions they wanted to ask veterans. Working together, learners evaluated and revised these questions. As student Michael White said, “Unlike text books, the first hand information given to us by the veterans does not just throw out random facts and numbers, but actual experiences. This made me come to realize that every soldier is a person and that every loss is a greater sacrifice than I could truly understand.”

They borrowed photographs from the veterans, scanned them, and incorporated them with narratives written from the oral histories as part of the public program.

In December, the class presented another public program: Bigfork, One Hundred Years by the Bay, as the culmination of a community history project they completed for the Chamber of Commerceís centennial celebration.

Through the winter, student researched “women in Montana” and in the spring they completed essays of place.

The literary magazine was published in May.

“My father was in the Korean War. He never really talked to me about it until this oral history interview. Who would have thought my own father had gone through so much. I will never forget it. For the first time, I saw him cry.” Lill Burgess

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