Sunday, November 10, 2013

Veterans Day: Why it is Important and Incorporating Veterans into your Classroom

By Margaret Duncan, Ed.D.

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, an armistice was declared between the Allied nations and Germany in the First World War. This war, the so called "Great War" and “War to End All Wars” was officially over.  A year later, the day was commemorated as Armistice Day and would later be a legal federal holiday in the United States starting in 1938. It is because more wars would follow that Armistice Day would evolve into Veterans Day.  This evolution allows for all Veterans of all wars be honored. 

My Great-Grandfather’s WWI Draft Card
Like most Americans, I have had various family members serve in the military.  As a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, I can even trace my ancestry all the way back to the American Revolution.  I have even been able to research other family members in other wars thanks to the National Archives Southeast Region in Morrow, Georgia.  At NARA SE, I was able to see, feel and copy the World War I Draft Cards of my Great-Grandfathers and several Great-Uncles. 


My Uncle John is Back Row, Far Left
However, the first person I remember ever discussing military service with was my Uncle, John Sickimich. My Uncle John served in the Navy during World War II.  Uncle John was indeed part of the “Greatest Generation.”   He was a man shaped by a Great Depression childhood and his military service in WWII.  Another Uncle, Danny Carlton was a Vietnam Veteran.  Although my Uncle John would answer any question asked, my Uncle Danny would never speak about his Vietnam experience.  Just like the wars they fought in, their military experiences were dramatically different.


Vietnam Veteran Jack Deleshaw speaking to students
As a teacher, I have over the years attempted to invite Veterans into my classroom and school to speak to students.  Within my career, I have been honored to have Veterans from World War II, Korea and Vietnam speak.  At the beginning of my career, WWII veterans were easy to get, however, over the years I had to make the switch to Vietnam veterans.  It saddens me that we are losing so many members of this “Greatest Generation” daily.  I am lucky to have as many speak as I did.  For the last 12 years my school has coordinated a Vietnam Speaker Event for all 10th and 11th grade students.  This annual event has been replicated at other schools with great success.   

Medal of Honor Recipient Col. Joe Marm and Me
at the 2011 Vietnam Veteran Speaker Event.
I have worked with the same Vietnam Veteran’s group for many years.  The Henry County wing of  the Atlanta Vietnam Veterans Business Association has always been good to my students, my school, and me. Each year, I have had between 10-12 Veterans take time out of their life to share experiences with students.  In 2011, my school was lucky enough to get Medal of Honor recipient Colonel Joe Marm speak.  Col. Marm was awarded the MoH for his actions at the Battle of Ia Drang. 

While Veterans Day is for all Veterans—Past and Present, the day should not be confused with Memorial Day.  This confusion is often made by my students.  Whereas, Memorial Day is to honor all service members who died in service to their country or as a result of injuries incurred during battle, Veterans Day pays tribute to all American veterans--living or dead.  Veterans Day is so that we can give thanks to living veterans who served their country honorably during war or peacetime.   

Medal of Honor Recipient Woody Williams,
Last Iwo Jima MOH living
and Vietnam Veteran Russ Vermillion
I would urge all teachers to invite Veterans into their classroom to speak to students.  Unlike a teacher who is capable of relaying all facts to students about wars, a Veteran gives a personal story and point of view that cannot be duplicated.  These Veterans are able to relay first hand information in such a way that students are captivated and inspired to learn more.  Be sure to contact your local veterans group and invite Veterans to speak at your school.  You will be amazed at what they have to offer and what a great experience it will be for you and your students.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Thinking about Veterans Day

By Nina Kendall

The approaching Veterans Day has me thinking about the task of teaching about war and the sacrifice Americans have made to protect and defend democracy. We are surrounded by popular portrayals of war and public opinion about war. Americans themselves have called solders heroes and villains. The challenge is determining what to teach students and our children about war and service.

            Do we focus on generals and battles or causes and consequences? Do we read a book or show a movie?  Is there a resource that helps teach about the war in the time we have and the manner we want?  Yes. There is a resource that will help. I recommend the Smithsonian exhibit, The Price of Freedom, Americans at War (  This exhibit has the appeal of short videos and biographies of veterans mixed with images of key artifacts and historical analysis. Beginning with the American Revolution, this website has individual exhibits on Americans in conflict through the war in Iraq today. I think this exhibit can be enjoyed in a large classroom or a small group.

            I first found this website when looking into the Western Indian Wars. This was the best selection of materials I could find for students to use to examine thoughtful conflict in the west with emphasis on Little Bighorn and Wound Knee. I use the exhibit as the basis of a webquest for my students, but you could do any number of activities. You could play the introductory movie in class or have students select an artifact and research its importance. My students enjoy the use of the website and I know they are viewing thoughtful, l historically accurate, interactive materials.

Looking for interactive web resources about other American wars? Check out the ones below. All of these resources offer opportunities for students to interact with history.   One of these resources may be one of your new favorites. Let us know what you enjoy and how you use it!

Revolutionary War
War of 1812
Mexican American War
Civil War
Spanish American War

World War II