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Analyzing WWII Military Service Record Envelopes | Wisconsin Historical Society

Classroom Material

Analyzing WWII Military Service Record Envelopes

Wisconsin World War II Stories: The Struggle

Analyzing WWII Military Service Record Envelopes | Wisconsin Historical Society

Grade level: Secondary

Duration: One class period

There are 30 Military Service Record Envelopes from the Town of Burlington (Racine County, Wisconsin) that were randomly selected from the more than 400 service envelopes for Burlington during the War years. These are not official service records. The Racine County War Records Committee instructed volunteers to obtain a "complete personal history and service record... for every man or woman." Volunteers were coached on the necessity of accuracy and care. Information was obtained through canvassing city blocks. The initial canvassing was "scheduled for completion by December 15, 1943," with follow-up information to be added later.


Students will:

  • Analyze primary source documents
  • Understand the contributions of communities and families to World War II


Teacher Caution: While these records are an interesting addition to World War II studies, there are drawbacks to using them. The small sample means that statistical validity can not be assured. Please use the strengths and weaknesses of this source as a foundation for discussing with your students the importance of evaluating sources. Some questions you might want to consider for such a discussion are:

  • Of what value are these records?
  • What are the possible shortcomings of using these records instead of official service records?
  • How might these records be insufficient for making generalizations?

The first part, The Struggle, in the Wisconsin World War II Stories series helps us recognize the importance of oral history in interpreting our past. In listening to these World War II veterans, we learn that the personal experience of history's many and varied actors can enrich our understanding of a given historic moment. In the following lessons you will have an opportunity to explore World War II, as witnessed by Wisconsin veterans. These lessons are intended to make history come alive for you in much the same way as the telling of their stories did for the veterans.

The videos and the coordinated lesson plans can be used in various ways. The lessons can be combined with part or whole use of the videotapes or online video clips, or the lessons can "stand alone." The five video series and lesson plans can constitute a complete World War II unit. Alternatively, any one component may be added as enrichment to an existing unit or program.

Resource Materials


Each student will be assigned one envelope to analyze. After examining the information on the envelopes, students should complete the following exercise.

  1. Using one envelope, record possible categories of analysis for study about World War II veterans and the communities where they lived.

  2. Using the ideas you discussed in question one, consider the contributions of your own hometown. How might you go about conducting research on your town's World War II service? How can you learn the individual stories of the men and women who served?

  3. Individual Assignment

    Choose one of the following roles and formats to write about the human commitment and cost required to conduct a war of the magnitude of World War II. Include ideas from what you have learned in the exercise above.

    • government official directing the production of a newsreel to be made immediately after President Roosevelt's Address to Congress (December 8, 1941)
    • the parent of five sons who have been drafted (there were several such families in Racine County, alone), writing a letter to the editor of the local newspaper
    • a peace activist who has chosen to resist the draft, speaking to a sympathetic audience in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in February of 1941
    • a citizen whose country has been liberated from Axis forces, writing a letter "To the American People," in August of 1944
  4. Group Assignment

    Many of the Service Record Envelopes contained newspaper clippings about the individual who served. Research your community's newspapers from 1940-1945 to construct a profile of your hometown's experiences during World War II.


Interview a World War II veteran to learn one individual's story. Write your interview, following the Library of Congress guidelines or Oral History Tool Kit for directions on how to conduct an oral history interview.


National Standards for United States History: Exploring the American Experience

(National Center for History in the Schools, UCLA)

Era 8, Standard 3

The Origins and Course of World War II, the Character of the War at Home and Abroad, and its Reshaping of the U.S. Role in World Affairs. Students should be able to:

Standard 3B

The student understands World War II and how the Allies prevailed.

5-12 Explain the major turning points of the war and contrast military campaigns in the European and Pacific theaters.
Standard 3C

The student understands the effects of World War II at home.

5-12 Explain how the United States mobilized its economic and military resources during World War II.
7-12 Evaluate how minorities organized to gain access to wartime jobs and how they confronted discrimination.
Wisconsin's Model Academic Standards for Social Studies
Standard A - Geography: People, Places, and Environments
A12.1 Use various types of atlases and appropriate vocabulary to describe the physical attributes of a place or region.
A12.13 Explain the major turning points of the war and contrast military campaigns in the European and Pacific theaters.
Standard B - History: Time, Continuity, and Change
B.12.1 Explain different points of view on the same historical event, using data gathered from various sources, such as letters, journals, diaries, newspapers, government documents, and speeches.
B.12.2 Analyze primary and secondary sources related to a historical question to evaluate their relevance, make comparisons, integrate new information with prior knowledge, and come to a reasoned conclusion.
B.12.6 Select and analyze various documents that have influenced the legal, political, and constitutional heritage of the United States.
B.12.7 Identify major works of art and literature produced in the United States and elsewhere in the world and explain how they reflect the era in which they were created.
B.12.15 Identify a historical or contemporary event in which a person was forced to take an ethical position, such as a decision to go to war…and explain the issues involved.
B.12.17 Identify historical and current instances when national interests and global interests have seemed to be opposed and analyze the issues involved.
B.12.18 Explain the history of…racial and ethnic discrimination, and efforts to eliminate discrimination in the United States and elsewhere in the world.


These lesson plans are designed to be used with Wisconsin World War II Stories: Part I: The Struggle, a video series created by Wisconsin Public Television and the Wisconsin Historical Society, in association with the Wisconsin Dept. of Veterans Affairs. The lessons in this part of Wisconsin World War II Stories span interest areas and levels. They include geography, technology, and human interest studies, and draw upon a wide array of social studies skills. Information on the series can be found at

Author: Victoria Zuleger Straughn.