Have you taken time to record the stories of your World War II ancestors and families? One way to get started is to use the Military Memories Writing Prompts below to jump start your research and writing as we explore life on the home front, women in service, and the lives of all veterans.
These prompts were written with the World War II era in mind, but most can be used for any war. They were originally used in May 2014 on my website and are not grouped by category. The order presented below is how the originally appeared. You can write them in any order.
Need more writing prompts? See my Stories from the World War II Battlefield Volume 3: Writing the Stories of War, for over 500 writing prompts for U.S. and European writing.
Prompt 1: The Home Front. On the home front, describe your family’s experience during the war. Who did they send to war and when? What impact did your family have on the entire war effort?
Prompt 2: Overseas Service. Was your ancestor shipped overseas? To which theater(s) of war? When did they leave and when did they return?
Prompt 3: Community Impact. Describe the impact the community where your family lived had on the war effort. How many men and women did they send off to fight and serve? Did the community have a war plant? Who worked there? Did any of your relatives work in a war plant or support the war effort through their job?
Prompt 4: The Home Front. Women were primarily expected to run the household, yet some worked in war factories or joined the military. Write about women’s roles during a war. Did your grandmother work as a Rosie the Riveter? Did she work outside the home in another capacity?
Prompt 5: Women in the War. Did any of your female ancestors join the military during WWII? Examine the reasons why a woman joined the Armed Forces in WWII. What did she contribute?
Prompt 6: Military Service. Was your ancestor drafted or did he or she enlist in the military? Where did he or she train? What was the training experience (camp, training, education, treatment, etc.)
Prompt 7: Overseas Service. Each battleground was different. The D-Day beaches were different terrain than the Ardennes Forest or North Africa or Korea or the air over Germany. Describe the locations where he or she moved from place to place during the war.
Prompt 8: V-E Day. Today is Victory in Europe (V-E) Day. Do you have any V-E Day stories from your family? Where were your ancestors and what were they doing on V-E Day?
Prompt 9: Race and Ethnicity. Consider how ethnicity and race affected people during WWII. For example, during World War II in the United States, Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps and African-Americans were segregated in the armed forces. Did this affect your family? How?
Prompt 10: The Home Front. What was the sendoff to war like for your ancestor? Was there a big family party or a town parade? Next, discuss the homecoming if he or she survived the war. Finally, if your soldier did not survive the war, what was their homecoming like if their remains were returned?
Prompt 11: The Home Front. Did your family experience rationing during the war? Discuss what items were rationed and how the family was affected.
Prompt 12: Overseas Service. Describe the living conditions of your ancestor during their military service. Did he or she sleep in a tent; barracks; bombed out buildings; on the frozen ground? How often did they get a hot meal or a shower?
Prompt 13: Women in the War. A lot is written about men in World War II but have you considered women were just as powerful as men during WWII? Write a brief piece on how you viewed your female ancestors as powerful during WWII.
Prompt 14: Soldier Stories. Have you ever used word play to help you write? Sometimes trying our hand at something different helps grow our writing skills. We have all seen movies about D-Day. Use any or all of these words to tell the story of a D-Day soldier.
Motto: 29 Let’s Go!
enemy roar and smoke
blood stained beaches
Prompt 15: The Home Front. On the home front, the view was that men should go off to fight. There were some with statuses that prevented them from serving. Did any men in your family not go off to fight and if so, why? What was his part of the war effort if he did not serve in the military?
Prompt 16: Overseas Service. Were any of your ancestors taken as a Prisoner of War? What was their experience?
Prompt 17: Communication. During World War I and II, word traveled by mail, telegram, and on the battlefield, telephone. It took weeks before families were notified of wounds, Prisoner of War, Missing in Action or Killed in Action statuses. Today the communication is almost instantaneous because of cell phones and the internet. Write about communication during the war in which your soldier fought and compare that to today’s communication.
Prompt 18: Communication. Newspapers can add a lot of details to a soldier’s story beyond that of his service. Think about the battles fought, the terrain, the enemy, and the weather. Use newspapers for facts that add depth to a story. Did your soldier fight on D-Day or in the Battle of the Bulge? Perhaps in the Pacific? Locate stories about the weather for major battles in which your soldier fought. Write a scene using the weather to tell a battle story.
Prompt 19: The Home Front. Did any of your female ancestors lose a husband? How did that affect the family? When we think about the word ‘lose’ consider those men and women that came back from the war changed in some way either mentally or physically. Did any of your family’s soldiers live in a Veterans Hospital after the war? How did that affect the family?
Prompt 20: Holidays and Celebrations. How did your family celebrate holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries during the war years? Items on the home front were rationed and on the battlefield, soldiers were lucky to have a hot meal on a major holiday. Do you have any letters from soldiers that talk about the holidays? Do you have photographs of family holidays at home?
Prompt 21: Race and Ethnicity. Is your family Jewish? What was their WWII experience? Do or did they share their stories? How did their experience shape your life? If they left Europe before the war, what happened to their families? What did they endure in the U.S. while the war was fought in Europe? If they remained in Europe – what was their story?
Prompt 22: Military Service. Did your soldier die in service? Do you know that story and have you obtained the records to tell that story? Were any personal effects returned to the family?
Prompt 23: Propaganda. Think about the propaganda at the time of the war. How did that help or hinder support?
Prompt 24: Communication. Do you have any letters, diaries, photographs, or post cards from your military ancestor? Write about their service using these items.
Prompt 25: The Home Front. Think about the clothing, shoe, and hair styles of the war days. How did they change from before the war to after the war? Do you have photographs or stories in your family about how this aspect of their lives changed?
Prompt 26: Remembrance. Today is Memorial Day. How do you honor those in your family who died in military service on this day? Do you have any stories or photographs of Memorial Days from years past? Particularly after the war when families would visit cemeteries more often?
Prompt 27: Overseas Service. Engage the senses. As you write a story about your solider, talk about the smell, sights, and tastes of war. What is seen and experienced?
Prompt 28: The Home Front. Did any of your family live in Europe or the Pacific theaters of war during WWII? Did they remain there after the war or emigrate? How did the war affect their decision to stay or go?
Prompt 29: After The War. Write about life after war. What did your ancestor come home to when his or her service ended? Marriage? A job? Family? College? Did he or she enlist to serve again?
Prompt 30: After The War. How did the WWII era affect your family from then until now? Did someone lose a spouse and remarry? Were there blended families? Did the patriotism and desire to join the military become instilled in every generation that followed?
Prompt 31: Soldier Stories. As we conclude Military Memories, I have two prompts for you today. 1. I am grateful for the service of my ancestors because …….. and 2. I am grateful for the service of today’s soldiers because ………
© 2016 Jennifer Holik