Fourteen-year-old Joel Thomas is taking his interest in history to new heights with a service project he hopes will help him become an Eagle Scout, he said. Thomas is interviewing World War II veterans, some of whom are also Lincoln County residents, with the help of the county Historical Association which provides him with equipment to document interviews through audio and video techniques. Interviews will also be later-transcribed and available in print form.
The high school freshman heard about a local organization of veterans who meet once a month — the Last Man Club — and after talking with members of the Eagle Scout program and the Historical Association, he decided he wanted to dive deeper into the club and its members. So far, he has interviewed nine veterans, and hopes to make it to 12 by next month.
Thomas uses a video camera, digital audio recorder and a tape recorder for backup to illustrate the interviewee’s accounts of their time in the military. The questions he asks during his interviews are based off a template that the N.C. state archives compiled, such as where the participant attended basic training, branch of service and personal experiences he had along the way.
A wooden table, with a chair on either side for the interviewer and interviewee, two microphones and recording equipment fill the third-floor Cultural Center room during questioning.
“You have to fully develop and lead your own Eagle Scout project,” Thomas told the Times-News earlier this month. “The project is required in order to become an Eagle Scout — the highest ranking in Scouts; it’s (the project) a one-time thing and a big deal.”
While conducting his interviews at the Historical Association, located inside the Cultural Center in Lincolnton, he stumbled upon a few stories that have stuck with him. A man who was in the infantry division — an on-foot soldier — and was captured in Germany caught Thomas’ attention recently. The veteran shared his experiences as a Prisoner of Way (POW), and gave Thomas something different to put in his notes. Others recalled injuries and recollections of World War II that gave him more insight on a topic that he couldn’t read about in textbooks.
Jason Harpe, executive director of the Historical Association, has been working with Thomas since over the last five to six months to develop his presentation on local historical figures, and marveled at the progress the scout has made and the “excellent job” he is doing.
“He’s really amazing,” Harpe said. “He’s only 14 years old and talking to him is like talking to a 30-year-old scientist.”
Thomas said he was surprised to learn of the number of veterans in the area and how interesting their lives in the military were.
A board will review Thomas’ project, while he discusses the process he went through and his overall experiences in Boy Scouts.
How to coordinate schedules and interview times and working with a team and different technologies were a few of the tools Thomas said he picked up over his time on his effort.
While working on becoming an Eagle Scout, doing homework and taking classes from home, Thomas is also sitting in on a Biology course at Belmont Abbey College, for which he will receive high school credit.
Thomas will be wrapping up his project over the next month or so and will later present it for review.