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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.

A separate 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 the questions 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 person you are interviewing. 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 books, articles, and other resources.
  • See the Interviewing and Recording Guidelines for additional tips.

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 Gulf)?
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 under fire.

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 career.

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 Kit.


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).

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  August 31, 2020
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