UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Jared Frederick’s passion for history has taken him to the battlefields of Gettysburg, rivers of Harpers Ferry National Historic Park and shores of Normandy, France.
Today, the WWII historian and former park ranger is an instructor of history at Penn State Altoona (also his alma mater) and author of a new book “Dispatches from D-Day: A People’s History of the Normandy Invasion,” which explores the stories of America’s Greatest Generation. The Greatest Generation refers to Americans who lived through the Great Depression and went on to fight and serve in World War II.
To help celebrate Military Appreciation Week at Penn State — which this year specifically honors the Greatest Generation — Frederick shares how he makes history relevant for his Gen Z students and what it’s like suiting up as a soldier in a WWII reenactment group that travels the East Coast. His group, the Furious Fourth, will be participating at various military appreciation events this month, including the military appreciation breakfast on Nov. 11 and tailgate on Nov. 16 at Penn State University Park.
Q: What sparked your interest in history?
Since I was a child, I’ve been inspired to explore America's past. Believe it or not, my interest really started in first grade when I saw the movie “Gettysburg” for the first time. Shortly thereafter, my parents took me to the park and I really fell in love with the place — 15 years later I was working there as a park ranger.
Q: How do you try to make history relevant for your students?
What I enjoy most about teaching is presenting students the opportunity to engage with the past in a unique way — it’s much more than a job for me, it’s a mission. I believe history is a guiding force and a moral compass, and I try to bring that energy into the classroom. This sometimes means teaching in unconventional ways. For example, every spring, we coordinate a living history encampment on the Penn State Altoona campus with reenactors from the colonial era to the Vietnam War who set up a military timeline for students. I’m there too, dressed up as a WWII foot soldier!
Q: What makes living history a valuable teaching tool?
Whether or not a person is 4 or 84, I think there’s something they can learn from living history interactions. It’s an opportunity to have immersive experiences and gain new perspectives of what the life of a WWII soldier was like, for example, whether it’s what they ate, wore or how they spent their time.