Travelling with the Troop Carriers: An Overview of World War II in Europe and Beyond

Guiding Question:

How do primary source objects like short snorters document the geographic expanse and chronology of World War II and provide insight into the personal experiences of the individuals impacted by the war?


Students will analyze World War II era banknotes called short snorters to explore World War II in the Mediterranean Theater from the vantage point of a Troop Carrier pilot. Using interactive technology from the American Battle Monuments Commission, they will explore the various military campaigns that took place in the locations represented by this artifact. Students will chronicle their learning by composing a brief V-mail letter written from the vantage point of a person participating in one of those campaigns.


Historical Context

Flying unarmed, the 64th Troop Carrier Group operated across the vast geographic expanse of World War II. These pilots flew their C-47s in campaigns in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France, and Greece, as well as the China-Burma-India Theater. Along the way, pilots collected currency from many of the countries they visited. Sometimes autographed, these collections were known as short snorters, and they were the prized possessions of many World War II aviators. Today, the short snorters serve as important artifacts that chronicle both the history of World War II and the personal experiences of those it affected.


At the conclusion of this lesson, students will be able to

  • Examine primary source materials in order to determine what they reveal about World War II;
  • Compare primary source and secondary source materials in order to describe the scope of World War II in the Mediterranean Theater; and
  • Conceptualize the varied experiences of those who served in the Mediterranean Theater by writing a letter home from the perspective of a person who participated in World War II.

Standards Connections

Connections to Common Core
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.9 Analyze the relationship between a primary and secondary source on the same topic.

Connections to C3 Framework
D2.His.11.6-8. Use other historical sources to infer a plausible maker, date, place of origin, and intended audience for historical sources where this information is not easily identified.
D2.His.1.6-8. Analyze connections among events and developments in broader historical contexts.


Lesson Preparation


Activity One: Analyzing Short Snorters (60 minutes)

  • Divide students into pairs.
  • Project the Map of the World in the front of the room and distribute individual copies to students.
    • Identify and label North America, South America, the Atlantic Ocean, North Africa, the Caribbean Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, Western Europe, and India with the class.
    • Distribute source 1, 2, and 3, to each student pair and remind students to record their observations and responses on the Think Like a Historian Worksheet Packet as each object is discussed.
  • Direct students to examine both images of source 1 and source 2.
    • Ask students to analyze the source using the questions provided.
  • Ask student pairs to analyze source 3 and respond to the questions.
    • Debrief student responses and ask them to share their responses.
    • Teacher Tip: Remind students that even though one bill is dated as early as 1935, most bills are from the early 1940s. How might that be an important clue?
  • Assign each pair of students a different portion of the short snorter (sources 4 through 12).
  • Guide student pairs to analyze their banknote, assisting when necessary.
    • Teacher Tip: Some students who have languages other than English written on their currency may become frustrated. Though they will be able to answer questions using the information in the captions, encourage them to make other observations or predictions about what the language could be conveying.
  • Discuss students’ observations and answers to the prompts.
  • Discuss students’ predictions about the possible function of these artifacts.
  • Post Think Like a Historian Worksheet: Sources 4-12 from each pair around the classroom to reference in Activity Two.

Activity Two: Contextualizing the Short Snorters (60 minutes)

  • Explain that the next document will reveal the historical significance of the objects they have been studying and will challenge or corroborate their predictions from the day before.
  • Project Coca-Cola=Welcome, Short Snorter advertisement from 1943.
  • Lead a class discussion:
    • What do you observe in this advertisement?
    • Where is this image taking place?
    • Why do you think aviators are encouraged to drink Coca-Cola?
    • Do your observations about the information in this advertisement support the prediction you made about the common purpose of the short snorters we analyzed yesterday?
    • What are these objects and what is their purpose?
  • Contextualize the short snorters by explaining that each belonged to someone who served with First Lieutenant John A. Boronko.
  • Project the Fallen Hero Profile for First Lieutenant John A. Boronko. Read it out aloud as students follow along, or watch the video at the end of the page.
    • Teacher Tip: Encourage students to relate the information in the Fallen Hero Profile to the locations represented by the short snorters by pointing out when the bills might have been collected.
  • Project "2 Lt. John A. Boronko," News Sheet from the University of Scranton in, 1944. Ask students:
    • Based on the letter’s date and the information in the Fallen Hero Profile, what places do students think First Lieutenant Boronko is referencing?
    • What does his letter reveal about what he’s experiencing?
    • Teacher Tip: Help students to contextualize the experience of many World War II pilots who were young, seeing new places in their nation and the world for the first time. Students may observe that the News Sheet lists him as a Second Lieutenant.
  • Project the blank V-Mail Letter Form (Front and Back) for the class to analyze. Ask students:
    • What is the purpose of V-Mail?
    • What information on this form might help to explain why First Lieutenant Boronko might have used such mysterious language in his letter?
    • Why is there a space for a "Censor's Stamp?"
    • How does it help to explain the language First Lieutenant Boronko used in his letter to the University of Scranton?
    • Based on the letter’s date and the information in the Fallen Hero Profile, what places do students think Boronko is referencing?
  • Project the World War II: A Visual History Interactive. Ideally, students can access online individually as well.
  • Compare locations on the Map of the World to the map background on World War II: A Visual History Interactive.
    • Which areas were controlled by the Allies? Which areas were controlled by the Axis?
  • Explore the year-by-year timeline and identify the locations represented by the short snorters.
  • Compare the World War II: A Visual History Interactive with the information in Lieutenant Boronko’s Fallen Hero Profile.
  • Discuss, When would squadron members have come into contact with these currencies?
    • Teacher Tip: Point out the “Approved” stamp on the campaign summaries in the interactive. Remind students that everything has to pass the censor.

Assessment Materials

Methods for Extension

  • Students can analyze another example of short snorters in popular culture by analyzing the “Smilin’ Jack” cartoon printed in the Chicago Tribune.
  • Students can be encouraged to reflect on their V-Mail letter, by returning the assignments to students after it has been scored. At this point, they could
    • Reflect on how they could have improved the information in their letter;
    • Revise one or two sentences of the letter; or
    • Rewrite these sentences in coded language in order to reflect censorship rules.
  • Students can compile the revised excerpts into a News Sheet detailing the class’ “military experiences” during World War II. Connect this to the ways students use social networking groups today to keep up with each other.
  • Students can listen to music from the World War II era. The original “Army Air Corps Song,” or “Straighten Up and Fly Right” by Nat King Cole would connect well to the lesson.
  • Students can explore other short snorters collected via the Short Snorter Project to learn about other theaters of World War II.


  • Younger learners can investigate the individual banknotes of the short snorter to learn about the culture and geography of the countries represented.
  • Teachers can help English Language Learners to connect the commonalities that exist among the currencies. This short snorter collects the languages of French, English, Italian, Greek, Latin, and Arabic in one artifact.
  • Teacher can guide the students proficient in differing languages to use the short snorter and translate for peers.