Westfield students honor local heroes

From left to right: 8th grader Nicholas Barber, Reading teacher Heather Daponde and Congressman Richard Neal (D-MA) at VVMF's Hometown Heroes launch event.

From left to right: 8th grader Nicholas Barber, Reading teacher Heather Daponde and Congressman Richard Neal (D-MA) at VVMF’s Hometown Heroes launch event.

During the 2013-2014 school year, North Middle School in Westfield, Massachusetts took on the voluntary veterans-based curriculum, Hometown Heroes. Hometown Heroes is a a service learning project that connects students to those who served and sacrificed in military conflicts. Pulling at the importance of remembering and preserving veterans’ stories, Heather Daponde, a Reading teacher and Student Senate Advisor at North Middle School agreed to tackle the project. While her beginnings happened later in the school year, Daponde and her class managed to implement all four of the curriculum’s lesson plans: Remembering Those Who Served, Preserving Veteran’s Personal Stories, Commemorating our Veterans and Understanding Healing Through Memorials.

During the course of the project, Westfield students soon learned that their town was the home to five fallen Vietnam veterans. The five veterans were as follows:

JOHN STILES EARLE

LT – O3 – Navy – ReserveLength of service 4 years14481_66_31_140_25_15564

His tour began on Jun 22, 1970

Casualty was on Jun 22, 1970

In OFFSHORE, SOUTH VIETNAM

Non-Hostile, died missing, FIXED WING – PILOT

AIR LOSS, CRASH AT SEA

Body was not recovered

Panel 09W – Line 78

 

MICHAEL LINDSEY DEANE

1LT – O2 – Army – Regulardeane

Length of service 0 years

His tour began on Mar 25, 1968

Casualty was on May 24, 1968

In THUA THIEN, SOUTH VIETNAM

Hostile, died of wounds, GROUND CASUALTY

ARTILLERY, ROCKET, or MORTAR

Body was recovered

Panel 67E – Line 8

 

DANIEL JOSEPH JOHNSON

26046_209_141_185_238_166034

PFC – E2 – Marine Corps – Regular

Length of service 1 years

His tour began on Aug 16, 1967

Casualty was on Jan 5, 1968

In QUANG NAM, SOUTH VIETNAM

Hostile, died of wounds, GROUND CASUALTY

OTHER EXPLOSIVE DEVICE

Body was recovered

Panel 33E – Line 48

 

JEFFERY MARK PARENT

LCPL – E3 – Marine Corps – Regular

Length of service 1 yearsnotforgotten

His tour began on Jul 21, 1968

Casualty was on May 4, 1969

In QUANG TRI, SOUTH VIETNAM

HOSTILE, GROUND CASUALTY

OTHER EXPLOSIVE DEVICE

Body was recovered

Panel 25W – Line 1

 

JAMES DONALD ZEBERT

PFC – E3 – Army – Selective Service

25th Infantry Division

Length of service 0 yearsnotforgotten

His tour began on Jun 9, 1969

Casualty was on Jun 27, 1969

In TAY NINH, SOUTH VIETNAM

HOSTILE, GROUND CASUALTY

GUN, SMALL ARMS FIRE

Body was recovered

Panel 21W – Line 27

 

Daponde stated,”I have 93 students divided into 5 classes and each class worked on researching information…We worked for about 15 days, 5 hours a day, not including the Memorial Day programs and the work students are doing independently…” Busy at work, the class worked tirelessly to research those whoDaponde photo 5 served. They aimed to understand the stories of our military service members and came to value the importance of what it means to remember. The students would later discuss their findings and blog about them.

Research was not the only kind of learning these students took part in. Preserving the stories of our veterans became more personalized as they began listening to the first-hand experiences of our veterans. And as part of Hometown Heroes, Daponde coordinated an event in which students were able to absorb the trials and tribulations of U.S. veterans through lectures and small group activities. But while students took it upon themselves to learn from our living legacy of service, they also found ways to help memorialize and pay tribute to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Students at North Middle School interviewing Paul Slater and Tom Leamon.

Students at North Middle School interviewing Paul Slater and Tom Leamon.

Commemorating and memorializing our nation’s fallen military heroes took a unique turn as the Westfield class paid tribute to America’s bravest by visiting war memorials. These included the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Massachusetts and The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. You can see photos from their trips on Mrs. Daponde’s blog, here.

And while the students did get a remarkable chance to learn about our veterans, Daponde did admit that it was challenge for the students to understand why studying such a conflict was important. It was not until they came to terms with being connected to the past that they were more open to learning about it. She stated, “Once we broke down the ideas of conflict and how conflict is relevant to them, they began to buy into the idea of studying the impact of war.” So what was the end result? These Westfield middle-schoolers came to terms with their community, the cost of conflict, citizenship, and the value of memorializing the steps and sacrifices of democracy.

Read the students’ blog here.

See how students in  Georgia  and Oregon have also implemented the program.

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