Participate in the Project >> Getting
Sample Interview Questions For Veterans
Here are questions to use when interviewing veterans who served
in the United States armed forces during World War I, World War
II, and the Korean, Vietnam, and Persian Gulf wars.
set of questions is available elsewhere
for use when interviewing civilians (see also Sample
Interview Questions for Civilians).
Tips for a Successful Interview
- Every interview should contain several segments. Dividing
an interview into segments allows for gathering important details
while nurturing memory. In the case of the Veterans History
Project, we are hoping to capture recollections of life experiences
and of the most memorable moments in wartime. We also hope these
interviews will shed light on how the veteran's service influenced
his or her postwar life.
- It is important to let the veteran tell his or her own
story. The questions below were developed to provide
general guidance only, so don't feel obliged to ask all
we are suggesting or to limit yourself to these questions.
- Have the veteran complete
the Biographical Data Form in advance of the interview. You
will notice that some of the questions may not apply to the
To avoid asking those questions,
review the Biographical Data Form before the
interview. It will help you ask the most relevant questions.
- Feel free to share a few general questions with
the participant beforehand. Often interviewees are more comfortable if they
know what kinds of questions you might ask.
- Prepare yourself for the
interview by reading about the war(s) the veteran served in
and by reviewing maps and atlases. Please refer to the bibliographies
and research tips elsewhere in this Project Kit or
ask a local librarian for help in identifying appropriate
and other resources.
- See the Interviewing and Recording
Guidelines for additional
Students Aaron Palmer and Eddy Albrecht interview veteran Jim Cunningham
from Sioux Valley VFW Post 1750, Iowa. Photo Courtesy of the Veterans
of Foreign Wars.
Segment 1: For the Record:
Make an introductory announcement at the start of each audio
or video recording. Record on tape the date and place of the interview;
the name of the person being interviewed; his or her birth date
and current address; and the names of the people attending the
interview, including the interviewer and his or her institutional
affiliation or relationship to the interviewee and the name of
the camera or recording operator if different than the interviewer.
Ask the veteran what war(s) and branch of service he or she served
in, what was his or her rank, and where he or she served.
Segment 2: Jogging Memory:
Were you drafted or did you enlist?
Where were you living at the time?
Why did you join?
Why did you pick the service branch you joined?
Do you recall your first days in service?
What did it feel like?
Tell me about your boot camp/training experience(s).
Do you remember your instructors?
How did you get through it?
Segment 3: Experiences:
Which war(s) did you serve in (WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the Persian
Where exactly did you go?
Do you remember arriving and what it was like?
What was your job/assignment?
Did you see combat?
Were there many casualties in your unit?
Tell me about a couple of your most memorable experiences.
Were you a prisoner of war?
Tell me about your experiences in captivity and when freed.
Were you awarded any medals or citations?
How did you get them?
Higher ranks may be asked about battle planning. Those who sustained
injuries may be asked about the circumstances.
Segment 4: Life:
Ask questions about life in the service and/or at the front or
How did you stay in touch with your family?
What was the food like?
Did you have plenty of supplies?
Did you feel pressure or stress?
Was there something special you did for "good luck"?
How did people entertain themselves?
Were there entertainers?
What did you do when on leave?
Where did you travel while in the service?
Do you recall any particularly humorous or unusual event?
What were some of the pranks that you or others would pull?
Do you have photographs?
Who are the people in the photographs?
What did you think of officers or fellow soldiers?
Did you keep a personal diary?
Segment 5: After Service:
Appropriateness of questions will vary if the veteran had a military
Do you recall the day your service ended?
Where were you?
What did you do in the days and weeks afterward?
Did you work or go back to school?
Was your education supported by the G.I. Bill?
Did you make any close friendships while in the service?
Did you continue any of those relationships?
For how long?
Did you join a veterans organization?
Segment 6: Later Years and Closing:
What did you go on to do as a career after the war?
Did your military experience influence your thinking about war
or about the military in general?
If in a veterans organization, what kinds of activities does your
post or association have?
Do you attend reunions?
How did your service and experiences affect your life?
Is there anything you would like to add that we have not covered
in this interview?
Thank the veteran for sharing his or her recollections.
Please be sure that the veteran, interviewer, and photographer
(if any) sign the appropriate release forms found in the Project
The questions above were developed by the Veterans
History Project team working in consultation with the American
Folklife Center and the Oral History Association. Special acknowledgment
is extended to Donald A. Ritchie, associate historian, United
States Senate, and author of Doing Oral History (New York:
Twayne Publishers, 1995).