In October of 2015, Chino Valley High School students took advantage of a rare opportunity. They listened to World War II veteran Lee Paul describe his personal experiences during the battle of Iwo Jima in 1945. As I watched this fascinating presentation, it occurred to me at the time that those students will never again get to look history in the face and ask questions of a soldier who helped win one of the most important battles of World War II. Unfortunately, Mr. Paul passed away late last year, but the experience he provided for participating students will be appreciated for decades to come. Mr. Lee’s interaction with the high school students was made possible by the Veterans Heritage Project.

Fourteen years ago, Barbara Hatch, at that time a Cactus Shadows High School teacher in Phoenix, founded the project. Its mission is to “Connect students with veterans in order to honor veterans, preserve America’s heritage and develop future leaders.” Since 2004, students have interviewed veterans from all military services. Many fought in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Once the written interviews are edited by the students, they are collected and published in an annual hard-bound book entitled Since You Asked. Copies of the book are made available to the participating veterans and students – and are ultimately sent, along with the video versions of the interviews, to the Library of Congress where they are added to the Veterans History Project National Archives as a publicly-accessible record.

This year, students from Chino Valley High School, Flagstaff High School, Embry- Riddle Aeronautical University/Prescott and for the first time, Boulder Creek High School in Anthem, AZ contributed to the Northern Arizona edition of Since You Asked. Forty-two interviews are featured in the 2018 edition, which is double the number of entries in the 2017 edition.

Scott Sloat, Social Studies/US History teacher at Chino Valley, has served as the school’s VHP Adviser during the four years that the school has participated in the program. He says the most satisfying comment by students is that the Veterans Heritage Project is much more than a mere assignment. They learn what military service is like from the men and women who wore the uniform. In some cases, friendships have resulted between veterans and students that have lasted far beyond the interviews.

Mr. Sloat says the greatest challenge of the entire project is to complete the editing of all the interviews in time for publishing. Although students do most of the editing, supervision is required to ensure proper sentence structure and punctuation.

The Veteran’s Heritage Project culminates each year in a book signing reception at which students request the autographs of participating veterans who appear in the book. This year’s book signing took place April 21st at the Centennial Room at the Prescott Airport.

The Veterans Heritage Project is an Arizona program. Twenty-nine schools in the state participate from middle schools, junior highs, high schools and a number of universities. In addition to interviewing veterans and writing the essays to be published, students develop a business plan to publish the Since You Asked book, set goals, assign responsibilities and establish deadlines for the project.

Although the project is underwritten by education resources in the state, additional funds are needed to purchase copies of Since You Asked for distribution to participating veterans and students. If you would like to donate to the Veterans Heritage Project, please contact Scott Sloat at 928-636-2298, extension 5518 or email ssloat@chinovalleyschools.com.

I strongly encourage local veterans to participate in this personally satisfying program. To volunteer, please contact me or Scott Sloat.

To comment on this column, email wilaugust46@gmail.com.