Middle Schoolers Honor Vietnam Heroes

The Vietnam War often gets just a small mention in middle school history books. For most 12 and 13 year olds, the war seems to exist in the distant past, with no effect on their daily lives.

Left to right: Shawna (hand on hip), Kylee S. (light blue shirt/red lanyard),   Nicole (very front in light blue and glasses), Wyatt (far back in striped shirt), Kylee H. (black shirt and headband), Dakota (front, in purple hoodie), Janelle (back row, black shirt, no smile), Justice (black shirt in middle/long dark hair), Cole (light blue shirt/red hair), Sarah (back row, far right), Mikey (front row, white shirt)

Left to right:
Shawna (hand on hip), Kylee S. (light blue shirt/red lanyard), Nicole (very front in light blue and glasses), Wyatt (far back in striped shirt), Kylee H. (black shirt and headband), Dakota (front, in purple hoodie), Janelle (back row, black shirt, no smile), Justice (black shirt in middle/long dark hair), Cole (light blue shirt/red hair), Sarah (back row, far right), Mikey (front row, white shirt)

But for a group of twelve seventh and eighth grade students in Steelville, Mo., the war, and those who fought it, is on their minds and on their desks for an hour each day. The students are working on two projects to honor Vietnam War-era veterans: the first is to build a monument in their honor.

The group is lead by Steelville Middle School teacher Jennifer Whitson. Two years ago, Whitson lead her students to fund raise and build a Korean War monument in Steelville. The granite monument was dedicated on Memorial Day in 2011.  She and the students hope to create a similar monument for Vietnam War-era veterans. The monument will cost upwards of $4,000. So far they have raised $693.

The second project is to collect all the photos of the men who died in the Vietnam War from the state of Missouri. The effort is part of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund’s Faces Never Forgotten campaign. The photos will be on display at the Education Center at The Wall in Washington, D.C.

“The kids have really gotten into looking for the photos,” Whitson said. “They have been stunned at finding so many who were only 19 years old when they were killed. This has been an eye-opener for them.”

One of the students was able to add a family photo to the project. Cole submitted the photo of his grandfather’s cousin to VVMF.

The students are getting creative when it comes to collecting photos: they are searching through obituaries in old newspapers and contacting people in their town who might have had a family member serve in Vietnam.

Left to right: Shannon, Cole, Shawna, Janelle, Mikey, Nicole, Justice, and Wyatt

Left to right: Shannon, Cole, Shawna, Janelle, Mikey, Nicole, Justice, and Wyatt

Through this project, the students are learning so much about American history, Whitman said.

“They have never been exposed to the Vietnam War, more than from my tiny amount of time with them this semester,” Whitson said.

One student, Kylee, said she was surprised to learn how many service members died in airplane crashes during the war.

There are 1,411 men on The Wall who called Missouri home. VVMF has thus far collected 502 photographs. Finding the remaining 909 photos is certainly a daunting challenge. But when Whitson asked her class if they would complete the mission and find all the photos, the students confidently yelled, “Yes!”

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