Can high school students understand the complexities of war? The answer is often convoluted and involves textbooks, articles, historical records, videos and trips to museums. It also involves hearing from those who have been there, done that.
When I was asked by Versailles High School social studies faculty to present my work and the work of my students at Edison State Community College in recording the stories of military veterans in the Miami Valley, my response was, “Of course.”
In no time at all, I began working on a Veterans Day program that I believed would have a lasting impact on the 400 students at that high school.
Such a program always involves collaboration, beginning with the veterans who will tell their stories. The three I contacted immediately affirmed they would speak: Harry Ashburn, World War II veteran; Donald Earnest, Korean War veteran; and John Looker, Vietnam War veteran. I know their stories as well as their ability to communicate them. This part of the program will begin at 1 p.m. on Nov. 14 inthe Versailles High School auditorium.
Ashburn was in the Philippines delivering Marines behind enemy lines and witnessing the liberation of the POW camp, Cabanatuan. After the war, he left his blue-collar town, went to college and became a coach, a history teacher and a principal.
Earnest cannot forget the starving children with legs and arms missing, minimal clothing — orphans scrambling for garbage or a safe place to sleep in the war-torn rubble that was Korea in wartime. After the war, he spent 37 years working at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and studied at the Dayton Art Institute. Before the military, Earnest had lived in West Virginia, foraging for food and clothing with his parents and five siblings. He understands poverty on a very deep level.
Looker earned his two Purple Hearts, with a third pending, at the Battle of Angel’s Wing when surrounded by Viet Cong, he saw members of his platoon die and , like himself, suffer grievous, life-threatening injuries. With a long recovery, Looker turned to alcohol and other destructive behaviors to deal with his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as he thought about the names of his fallen comrades which would soon appear on the Vietnam Wall. To heal, he works to help save others: speaking, counseling, doing all he can hundreds of hours each month to make a positive difference in the lives of veterans. Looker serves as a commissioner for Veterans Services in Warren County, Ohio, helping veterans secure the services they deserve.
Most of us like music, so my next contact was with retired Edison economics professor and Vietnam War veteran Larry Dragosavac, whose band, Thien Snipps, knows how to involve an audience in a big way with renditions of military music for the Army, the Air Force, the Navy, the Coast Guard, and the Marines. I scheduled that performance for 12:30 to 1 p.m. on Nov. 14, and checked that off my list.
All of us like to see things, i.e., artifacts, and the curator of the Miami Valley Veterans Museum in Troy, Terry Purke, has been building what he calls, “History in a Box.” An expert in all things military and a veteran, Purke will be bringing big boxes that hold authentic artifacts from World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Museum librarian Gary Sargent, Vietnam War era veteran, will sit with the display while Purke answers students’ questions.
Vietnam War veteran Mel Shane will be the ringmaster of this event scheduled for 12 noon beginning with the viewing of the relics in the boxes. Edison student and veteran Sean Murphy will video the program for distribution to several outlets.
But that’s not all: The college, the museum, and the high school want area veterans and their families to attend the event so we can recognize the veterans for their service. This is yet another way for students to realize that “they are among us” — their neighbors, their Sunday school teachers, area businessmen and women.
I am sometimes asked, “Why do you do this, Vivian? It’s a lot of work.” I do it to honor them, the veterans. I do it also to educate non-veterans about the high cost of war — emotionally and physically.
Dr. Blevins has taught undergraduate and graduate students as well as prison inmates, and now teachescommunication and American literature classes at Edison State Community College. Reach her at (937)778-3815 or firstname.lastname@example.org.