URI journalism professor John Pantalone assigned his introductory news-writing class to interview select veterans and to document their personal stories of the war. Students also tape-recorded the interviews. “There is a possibility that the home will be preparing oral histories with the veterans to preserve their stories firsthand,” said Pantalone.
Before the interviews, students spent time in class learning about World War II to better understand the veterans’ stories. They interviewed veterans from different military branches with an array of firsthand accounts of World War II, ranging from nurses who witnessed the front lines of battle in Japan to men who fired the first shots at Normandy Beach during its invasion.
For many students, it was their first interviewing experience. “I was nervous going into the interview because I was worried that I would not do the veterans’ stories justice,” said Samantha Pezza. a sophomore public relations major from Cranston. “Once I sat down and began the interview, I really got into the interview and was very glad to have the opportunity.”
“It’s always good for students to get out into the real world and have this kind of experience,” said Pantalone. “Practical application of what they learn in the classroom is tremendously valuable. It’s a maturing experience.”
“I was surprised to find out that the veterans had more energy than me,” said Pezza, who interviewed Edward Hanrahan, a former officer of the Signal Corps. “He would talk about his experience and add sound effects. He was funny and entertaining. It definitely made me happy to see someone, given all he has been through and at age 88, still full of so much life.”
John Troiano, a former Navy Seaman, was a crew member aboard the USS Arkansas, which was one of the first Navy ships to drop off soldiers at Normandy Beach. Troiano said he enjoyed interacting with the students and hopes they learned something from his stories. “They should know what happened. Everyone should know.”
Lynne Tashiro, a URI pharmacy instructor who also serves as a consulting pharmacist at the Rhode Island veterans home, came up with the idea for the project. “Lynne was looking for students who might want to interview veterans to get their stories down on paper,” said Pantalone, who will give the completed profiles to the home at the end of the semester.
Tashiro said she hopes the students’ profiles help make URI aware of the veterans’ role in the war, and aware of the home itself. “Many Rhode Islanders do not even know the veterans home exists. Rhode Island veterans made a major contribution to World War II, and people need to be aware of that. The veterans stories need to be told and hopefully this will draw some attention to the veterans.”
The Rhode Island Veterans Home is a 110-acre complex located on Mount Hope Bay in Bristol. The home’s mission is to provide quality nursing and residential care to Rhode Island war veterans in need. Residents of the home and their dependents are also provided with social, medical, nursing and rehabilitative services. Tashiro said the home currently has 235 residents.
URI student Shawne Towne talks with William Legualt at the Rhode Island Veterans Home in Bristol. Photo by URI senior Phil Bowers.
URI students Charles Wilbur (left) and Sarah McMullen (right) interview Martina Higgins. Photo by URI senior Phil Bowers.