Senior Brings History to Life With Veteran Interviews

Matthew Pollack ’20 has always been interested in military history and working with veterans, and his senior project allowed him to pursue his passion by interviewing American veterans about their wartime experiences.

For his project, Pollack focused on interviewing veterans of the Vietnam War. “I did not want to only limit myself to interviewing people who were directly in combat, but also talk to the people that may have had other roles in the military as well to get a broad range of perspectives,” the senior said. 

He chose to focus on veterans specifically from the Vietnam War because when he was interviewing World War II veterans last year for his project History Personified, including Senator Bob Dole, he came across a number of Vietnam War veterans who expressed interest in being interviewed. “The Vietnam War and its veterans receive much less attention than veterans from other wars,” Pollack explained. “While there is no doubt that the American government receives much criticism for its actions in Vietnam, we still need to honor the actions and the stories of the veterans who fought in it.” 

Pollack had originally planned to conduct in-person interviews with veterans this spring, but due to the spread of COVID-19 he had to change his plans and needed to find interview subjects who would be able to share their stories virtually. He posted an ad on Facebook with a request to interview Vietnam War veterans, which “translated to two veterans who were interested in being directly interviewed and a few more that were interested in writing up a small blog post about their experiences,” he said. 

As an interviewer, Pollack lets the veteran guide the conversation, since, he noted, “Some veterans are eager to talk about their personal battle experience while others prefer to mention more mundane stories from their military experience — both types offer incredibly valuable insights when trying to build a collective narrative of any war.”

Pollack hopes that his project will encourage others to see history through the lens of the people who made and experienced it. He also recommends “everyone to go out and actually meet and talk with older people in your life. You never know what interesting things you might learn.”