Thank you to all our military veterans! Our freedoms and those of others around the world ring because of you. Most of us only know about war from what we have read or seen in movies or documentaries, and they can never tell the whole story. We can learn more by asking veterans questions about their time in the military. Honor their lives and their service by caring enough to ask. Below are some generic, benign topics. Start asking and let your veteran friend lead wherever and however deep they want to go.
Were you drafted or did you enlist? What year? What branch of service?
What were your feelings about enlisting or receiving a draft notice?
What was the reaction of your parents and other family members?
Where did you go to boot camp?
Were you allowed to bring much from home (clothing, books, etc.)?
How far away from home was it? Were you homesick at all?
Was the climate different from home; if so, how did you adjust?
What was a typical day like?
Was it as strict as the movies show?
Did you ever get in trouble? What was the punishment?
What did you do on your time off?
If you were assigned to special training where were you sent for it?
Why do you think you were chosen for that, or were you given a choice?
Did you like it? Was it difficult?
What did you do on your time off there?
Were you told where you’d be stationed, or shipped out without knowing?
How did you get there and how long did it take? What was ship/plane travel like?
What did you think of the location(s) of your assignment(s)?
What were the local people like? Did you associate with them at all?
What did you do during down time? Leave time?
Did you get many letters from home? Did you write home often?
Were you homesick much or did you enjoy the camaraderie or adventure a lot?
Did you worry much about your girl- or boyfriend/spouse/family back home?
What did you think about this war? Did you agree with it?
What year did you get out of service?
How did you/others around you react to the end of the war? Where were you?
What did you do after you got out of service?
PS: If your veteran is interested in saving some of his stories in print or audio, here is a great article by Leila Levinson, “Can the Simple Act of Storytelling Help Them Heal?” (many vets have never told their stories), but look at the end of the article to find programs that support and encourage veteran writing. For veterans in Missouri there is the Missouri Veterans History Project and the Missouri Warrior Writers Project. And I am always happy to offer free consulting to any war veteran wanting do a bit of lifewriting.