Harry Allen Clawson’s story is a relevant tale of sacrifice, loss, and the human cost of war. A story of duty, the love of freedom and the love of family more than self. It’s a timeless story, and yet is in danger of being lost to time.
Who could speak for Harry? Can anyone really speak for the dead? How can you get to know someone who is dead? Someone you have never met and never will meet in this lifetime? Someone who has been gone so long that even the memories of him, held by those who did know him, have begun to fade like old posters left in the sun? To make matters even more difficult what if you and the person you are trying to understand are very different in many significant physical, and emotional ways?
Faced with all of these questions I decided I would attack it from every angle I could think of. After several months of contemplation I devised a plan. I would design my own research methodology based on the ways I learned best. I would try and attach my senses to as much of Harry’s story as possible. I would try and experience as much as I could. My research methodology breaks down into four parts: Seeing, Doing, Documenting, and Making.
I would try and see as much of what Harry saw, through photos, movies, and most importantly in person. I would have to go and see where he fought, and died, where he trained and lived. I would listen to music that he listened to, and discover the visual world that surrounded him.
I would try and do some of the things he did. Physical training, combat conditioning, virtual combat via video games and paintball, even jumping from a perfectly good airplane. I don’t think I am ready to do Mt. Curahee in 50 minutes (3 miles up 3 miles down) but I have lost 20 pounds since I started this adventure.
I would read everything he wrote. I would read things written about him, or about the places he went or the things he did. I would also document my experiences of Seeing, Doing and Making. I would also try to contextualize Harry’s timeframe with my own through references I could relate to. For example, Harry graduated from High School in 1936. A year that is completely foriegn to me until you relize that is the same year the Wizard of Oz was playing in theaters and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was the number one song.
As a designer, no research would be complete without making communication pieces relating to Harry’s story. To tryout different mediums and storytelling formats. These research experiments would be just as valuable in finding out more about Harry as standing where his body was found.
It remains to be seen how effective this methodology is in practice. One thing for sure is that while most of it isn’t real, a mere shadow of Harry’s experience, it has still left me in a better position to tell Harry’s story with authority and truthfulness than when I first started. Oddly enough it has been commented several times now that I might know more about Harry than those who actually knew Harry.