Students, Stories, and the 'Silent Service'
An Oral History Project at Independence Seaport Museum
In Partnership with the National Park Service, Maritime Academy Charter School, the Delaware Valley Chapter of the United States Submarine Veterans of World War II and the United States Submarine Veterans, Inc.
The United States Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that World War II veterans are dying at a rate of 1,056 a day – more then 385,000 a year. Of the approximately 16 million Americans who served in the armed forces during WWII, estimates are that fewer than 4 million are alive today. As these individuals slip away so does the opportunity to capture their unique stories.
In an effort to collect, preserve and honor these fading memories a partnership was formed between the National Parks Service, Maritime Academy Charter School, the Delaware Valley Chapter of the United States Submarine Veterans of World War II (USSVWWII), the United States Submarine Veterans, Inc. (USSVI) and Independence Seaport Museum to create Students, Stories, and the 'Silent Service' – an oral history project focusing on the personal experiences of submariners. These stories have been placed in the museum's Archives and Library and are being used to enhance the visitor experience on board the USS Becuna, the museum's WWII and Cold War BALAO-class submarine.
As the second largest artifact in the collection at Independence Seaport Museum, the USS Becuna is 307 feet long and carried 10 officers and 80 enlisted men. Built in New London, Connecticut and launched in 1944, the Submarine Becuna (SS-319) completed five wartime patrols in the Pacific Ocean and is credited with sinking 3.5 Japanese merchant ships during WWII. After it was modernized in 1951, the USS Becuna's Cold War missions often found her in the Atlantic, trailing Soviet submarines with eavesdropping equipment aboard. The Becuna was decommissioned in 1969 and has been part of Independence Seaport Museum's Historic Ship Zone since 1996.
The project Students, Stories, and the 'Silent Service' began by pairing students in grades nine through twelve from Maritime Academy Charter School who had completed a three-day workshop about WWII, the Cold War and the process of conducting an oral history with submarine veterans from the Delaware Valley Chapter of the USSVWWII and the USSVI. Students asked the veterans questions they had crafted in groups prior to the interviews about life onboard the submarine, the experience of war and what the veterans went on to do after they completed their service. Students also had the opportunity to learn and use audio and visual equipment and act as both the rundown operator and the director for interviews conducted by their peers. The complete set of videos and transcriptions is collected in ISM's Archives & Library Department.
One of the most positive outcomes of the project was the interaction between the two diverse groups; young high school students began to realize and appreciate the service aging submarine veterans gave to their country and to future generations. In a letter written after her participation in the program, Tiearra Sampson stated, "the program was a real learning experience for me. Before, WWII didn't come to mind often but now thanks to the program I have so many questions and thoughts in general about it…." What ISM museum staff discovered upon completion of the program was that the oral history project did not just touch the lives of those participating. Cindy Floyd, a parent of a student participant wrote, "…this was an important and invaluable experience, one I as a parent will treasure and one as an educator I too have learned from…."
Students, Stories, and the 'Silent Service' goes far beyond simply recording the stories of WWII and Cold War veterans. Independence Seaport Museum has placed a video presentation aboard the USS Becuna, expanding the public's understanding of WWII and the Cold War as well as the men who served in the submarine force. This will ensure that this history is never "silent," and will make the USS Becuna come alive. This video is also available on our website.
• Learn more about Becuna on Independence Seaport Museum's USS Becuna webpage »
• Visit the United States Submarine Veterans (USSVI) Website »
• Visit the Maritime Academy Charter School Website »