Students Interview Veterans, Learn What “textbooks cannot communicate”


Screenshot from the Motion Picture Forrest Gump. Part of the film depicts Forrest (played by Tom Hanks) serving in the Vietnam War.

“When first hearing the students refer to Forrest Gump as the basis for understanding the Vietnam War, I became concerned that there were a lot of misconceptions,” said Blake Busbin, a fourth year AP History teacher at Auburn High School.

Blake is currently teaching Vietnam in his classroom to clear up misunderstandings his students may have of the Vietnam era.

To fight inaccuracies and stereotypes, students in Blake’s class began to “learn first-hand about the nation’s military history from the veterans themselves.”

In 2014, Blake initiated the AHS Veterans Project and his class began collecting oral histories from veterans of all eras. Last year, they focused on Vietnam to commemorate the war’s 50th anniversary.

Students would sit wide-eyed and ears open to “the horrors of war.” Over time, the students became historians themselves, learning “something that their textbooks cannot communicate.”


Students at Auburn High School listen to veterans and capture oral histories for their class website and to submit to the Veterans History Project.

A student in Blake’s class was particularly moved to hear about a veteran’s motivation to keep fighting despite his handicap. It inspired her to one day, “help out the injured soldiers in the military,” if she gets the chance.

“The interview taught me to respect the incredible people who were willing to sacrifice their lives for us,” she added.

Others were surprised to learn that Vietnam veterans were faced with disrespect when they returned to the states. It changed their perception on the military.

“It made me appreciate our military and the project overall made the war seem much more real,” another student added.

Completed interviews are published to the classes’ project website and sent to the Veterans History Project. 90 interviews have been collected to date.

It has given these high-schoolers “a greater appreciation for the willingness of veterans to serve others.”

Auburn students have also made it a priority to find the pictures of veterans from Georgia and Alabama, whose names are inscribed on The Wall in D.C. The photo collection effort is a part of VVMF’s Wall of Faces.

“Since we initiated our efforts in late October, the number of photos needed for Alabama has gone from 674 to 603 and Georgia’s number has gone from 717 to 697,” Blake recalls. “We have been sending “letters to editor” to local papers listing those that need photos from that area and relying on social media use to help spread the word.”

Putting a face to the Vietnam War creates a different kind of lesson. There is a focus on individual’s sacrifices, which allows memories of the fallen to be preserved every day.

Robert Hal Mundy of Anniston, Alabama. Mundy fell on  May 6, 1968.  Photo was submitted by Blake Busbin.

Robert Hal Mundy of Anniston, Alabama. Mundy fell on May 6, 1968. Photo was submitted by Blake Busbin.

Blake even opens with a story of an Auburn High School alumni before his classes.“We have been able to connect with the fallen hero in a way that just having a name may not have allowed us to do,” he says.

Blake has also covered lessons including: the contributions of American allies, the varying roles of the military, and the effects of Agent Orange.

VVMF’s education tools have helped Blake conceptualize his oral history project and help build a theme his students can grasp moving forward. “More importantly, it introduced me…to a direction with our efforts to remember the fallen soldiers,” he said.

It’s an admirable way to educate.

In December 2016, Blake will be in DC presenting at the NCSS annual conference.

Those interested in participating in the AHS Veterans Project can email Blake here or call Auburn High School at (334) 887-4970.

For more information on VVMF’s role in education, click here.