Vietnam Veteran Educates Boise Students on History and Life
by Melanie Lowry, Education Outreach Intern
“You can read about history, but there’s nothing quite like hearing it firsthand,” said David Skinner, an Advanced Placement United States History teacher at Bishop Kelly High School in Boise, Idaho.
In his classroom, Skinner teaches the events of the Vietnam War and era as a part of his history curriculum. For decades, with the incorporation of a notable guest speaker in the Boise community, Skinner has managed to make his Vietnam lessons into a series of memorable classes for his students.
Ed Abajian, a Vietnam veteran, first set foot into Skinner’s classroom over thirty-five years ago. Both men are alumni of Bishop Kelly High School themselves, and came into contact when Skinner found that Abajian would be willing to speak to a group of his students about his experiences in the Vietnam War.
Nicknamed “Ed the Vet” by students of Bishop Kelly High School, Abajian gives annual lectures to Skinner’s classes. He details his experience of being drafted in 1969 into the United States Army as an eighteen-year-old resident of Seattle.
“Ed relates well to the students, and is an integral part of my Vietnam lesson plan,” said Skinner.
This year, Skinner incorporated Abajian’s yearly visit with the documentary, Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam. A suggested film and educational resource in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund’s Teach Vietnam toolkit, Skinner showed this documentary in his classroom to spark student questions prior to the guest lecture.
Students use their questions about the war, inspired by the documentary, to find out more about Abajian’s experience. After Abajian provides a general overview of his time in the Army, he typically asks students what they are most interested to hear about.
“Most of the questions students ask are about personal, human things” said Skinner. “The kids are around the same age as he was when he was drafted.” Questions asked by students included information about Abajian’s family, his feelings during combat, and his experience of being away from home.
Abajian’s lecture covers not only history, but also notable lessons on life, according to Skinner. In his time in Vietnam, Abajian found that it was easy to be affected by overwhelming despair. He emphasizes to students each year that no memory should fully consume a person, no matter how unpleasant or emotional that event may have been.
Skinner has heard from many of his students that Abajian’s guest lecture is one of the most captivating history classes of their school year.
“There are veterans in every town that can speak to students”, said Skinner, “and this really helps to personalize an event in history.”
Learn about VVMF’s role in education here.