Creative Inquiry

Project Spotlights

Giving History A Voice

The year is 1942. The stench of death hovers in the military prison in which Colonel Ben Skardon, Clemson College Class of 1938, is being held captive by Japanese military forces. His health is declining rapidly and his body is being ravaged by malnutrition. Colonel Skardon and his comrades have been stripped of their possessions and are facing almost certain death. Only one gleaming piece of hope remains for these soldiers - Colonel Skardon's Clemson ring, hidden from his captors. He knows that he can trade his precious ring for food. But will he survive long enough to have the chance?

The story of Colonel Ben Skardon is one of the many that emerged from the historical interviews the Veteran's History Project Collection and Digitization Creative Inquiry students are preserving for the future. Colonel Skardon is a WWII veteran and Bataan Death March survivor He managed to miraculously hide his Clemson ring and later trade it for food, and he credits his Clemson ring with saving his life. He later received a replacement ring and wears it proudly: "With the Clemson ring, it generates friendship; it generates association; and of course because of my age, the Clemson I knew is so starkly different and contrasts so much with Clemson University; however I think that there is a sameness of spirit." Being able to share compelling, firsthand accounts of history like Skardon's is exactly what sparked the interest for this Creative Inquiry course.

Last August, psychology major Daniel Mack came to business advisor Colonel Lance Young with a bright idea for a new Creative Inquiry project. Since Mack came to Colonel Young only two days before class started, they certainly had their work cut out for them. Young was excited to work with Mack, bouncing around ideas and coming up with a syllabus for the course.

The course was approved for sponsorship and ready to go after only two days of planning. The main goal of the "Veteran's History Project Collection and Digitization" is to not only have students learn about history, but to take part in documenting it forever.

Students involved in this course are required to interview a minimum of four veterans per semester. All interviews must meet the specifications of the Library of Congress since the completed interviews are later sent there for permanent record. Not only do the students involved in this course get to learn through interviewing firsthand, but they are also able to contribute to historical documentation. While students have the option to interview veterans from anywhere, the majority of the interviewees are Clemson graduates. Some have interviewed family members, friends, and even legends like Skardon.

Will Hines, a freshman in his second semester of this course, explains why he thinks the course is beneficial to students. "It is good to see students learning and getting more than just facts about history. With the interviews, you can get a sense of emotion and what it was like for them."

Not only are the interviews beneficial to the students, but they are also beneficial to the interviewees. This gives the veterans a chance to share their story and accomplishments.

Young says that it is not uncommon during an interview when the interviewee will gradually come to life as he shares his adventures. They enjoy sharing their stories and talking with the students. Young states, "It is important to capture stories of American Heroes, Clemson grad or not, and to have a way to hear their stories forever." This is exactly what this group is accomplishing.

Young and his students have big plans for this semester. They currently have an up-and-coming website where all of their interviews will be posted for the public to view. As they have gotten used to working with the video equipment, the interview requirement per semester has gone from three interviews last semester to four interviews this semester. They have also increased the amount of students involved from eight students last semester to eleven this semester.

It all started with an idea. "I had no idea how supportive the campus would be of this project," says Mack. With the help and support from Young and other faculty members at Clemson University, his idea turned into yet another successful experience for both Clemson students and Clemson war vets with a story to tell.

By: Bethany Vierling (Decipher Issue 2, Fall 2013)