Research a Fallen Hero

Research a Fallen Hero

Using Source Materials to Understand Lives of the Fallen

Kevin Wagner

Many times war is taught from a top-down, military perspective. This resource will help you and your students uncover the personal lives and stories of everyday American service members who fought and died. Your guide on this journey is Kevin Wagner and his students. Join them as they uncover the life of Charles Leinbach, a Lieutenant Colonel from Pennsylvania who fought in World War II.

Charles Leinbach’s story is just one of thousands of World War II stories from the Pacific Theater that have been lost to American memory over time. More than 12 million men and women served our nation during the war with approximately 73% serving overseas for an average of 16 months. Their personal stories help put a human face on the war effort from 1941 to 1945.

At the end of the process, your students will be able to

  • Identify and analyze primary source documents for key pieces of information in developing a soldier's personal story;

  • Evaluate the credibility of source materials for historical research; and

  • Contextualize a period of time through multiple perspectives.

Standards Connection

Connections to Common Core

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.9 Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g. visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.

Connections to C3 Framework

D2.His.9.9-12 Analyze the relationship between historical sources and the secondary interpretations made from them.

D2.His.10.9-12 Critique the usefulness of historical sources for a specific historical inquiry based on their maker, date, place of origin, intended audience, and purpose.

D2.His.12.9-12 Use questions generated about multiple historical sources to pursue further inquiry and investigate additional sources.


Ask students to complete a 3-2-1 exit ticket. Students should create a triangle on notebook paper and divide it into three sections horizontally. In the bottom section, the students record three ways primary sources help us learn about a person. In the middle section, the students describe two types of documents that may help them in telling a person’s story. In the top section, the students record one question they have about historical research.

Methods for Extension

  • Students may want to explore the possibility of World War II Fallen Heroes from their own school or hometown. Team up with your school’s librarian to look at old yearbooks from the late 1930’s and early 1940’s to attempt to identify individuals who may have served in World War II. Students may also want to contact their local or county historical society for possible known World War II service members or even Medal of Honor recipients from their hometown.

  • Students with more interest in researching the personal stories of World War II service members may want to develop a project website for inclusion in the National History Day’s Silent Heroes program. They should check out for more information and project guidelines.

  • Create a classroom bulletin board to document the research process. See Kevin Wagner's bulletin board as an example.

  • The American Battle Monuments Commission maintains U.S. military cemeteries overseas while the National Cemetery Administration maintains National Cemeteries in the United States. These cemeteries are permanent records to the fallen and can also be a starting point to know the stories of those who rest here. To learn more about the stories of some of the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice, visit the ABMC & NCA Sites page of the Understanding Sacrifice website.

  • Teachers can enhance students’ interest in the impact of loss on the World War II homefront by exploring this related lesson plan on Sacrifice, Loss, and Honor: A Simulation of the Homefront in World War II


  • Teachers can adapt the project to younger learners by changing the focus of the activities in each of the processes to identifying rather than analyzing.

  • In each of the process steps, teachers can divide the class into several mixed-ability groups and ask each group to work together in analyzing the primary source or document.

  • Teachers can group students in several ways. One strategy would be to have groups of heterogeneous ability work their way through the steps of the entire historical process as outlined in the lesson. Another method is to consider students’ strengths and group them according to their said abilities, assigning tasks that fit said strength – recorder, time manager, etc.

Teaching Materials

Download the full activity, including all handouts and resources