Veterans project leads Rainier class to remember Vietnam

(left) Andrew Demko, (right)  David Placido

(left) Andrew Demko, (right) David Placido showcasing their work with the new Hometown Heroes curriculum.

Andrew Demko, a Social Studies teacher at Rainier Junior/Senior High School in Oregon, implemented a voluntary educational curriculum by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. The curriculum is Hometown Heroes and it connects students with veterans’ stories and gives them the opportunity to collect the photos of those who sacrificed. This past year, Demko’s exceptional work with the curriculum gave him and one student, Sophomore David Placido, an invitation to attend the launch of the Hometown Heroes learning curriculum on June 25th to showcase their efforts. Demko has worked extensively with his school’s History Club to remember those who served during the Vietnam War, and his work is ongoing.

During the 2014 school year, Demko and Rainier High School’s History Club members began working together to gather artifacts, photographs, and stories of Columbia County residents who served in Vietnam. Collecting stories and photographs of those who served and died in Vietnam gives students a different perspective on war, and gives them a chance to understand what it means to memorialize those who lost their lives. Demko photo 3The human factor is important to teach to students because it is not something a regular textbook may touch on. Only through human connection and stories do students learn empathy, understanding, and realize that war is more than its politics. War is fought by young, ambitious human beings who lived in their town’s backyards. The gathering of information was so important to these students that some visited local memorials and cemeteries where these veterans were buried.

And while some Rainier students were exploring the lives of locals who served in the Vietnam War, others began gaining  knowledge about the divisive time period.  They spoke with veterans and hosted a local event to honor those who served. Sophomore student David Placido said, “One of the most surprising things that I’ve learned with Hometown Heroes is how horribly the veterans were treated when they first came home.” He said he is glad to be working on a project to give the veterans “the respect that they deserve.”

Some Rainier students also worked with collecting the stories of Vietnam veterans who returned home. Connor Thompson, a student at Rainier interviewed his grandfather, Vietnam veteran Paul David Wilson.  Thompson learned about Vietnam’s warm climate, the bugs, his grandfather’s time as an infantryman, and the tales of canvas tents that slept about twelve GI’s at a time. Thompson realized, “It is important to remember these soldiers and listen to the stories they tell.”

Connor Thompson sits with his grandfather, Vietnam veteran Paul Wilson.

Connor Thompson sits with his grandfather, Vietnam veteran Paul Wilson.

Overall, Demko stated that the students responded positively to the Hometown Heroes curriculum because it allowed “students to gain understanding about the Vietnam War as well as gain respect for those who served.” Demko began working with Hometown Heroes in January of this year and has high hopes to continue building the program at Rainier. He is also hosting a ceremony to honor local veterans later this month.

Resources and opportunities left to learn about our nation’s past go beyond the textbook. VVMF is pleased that Rainier Jr./Sr. High School successfully executed its resources to research and collaborate between students, veterans, and the community.

Learn more about Rainier’s involvement with Hometown Heroes here.

Andrew Demko and student David Placido also met with Seantor Jeff Merkley in July to discuss the curriculum’s importance. Way to go, guys!