SMS Social Studies Teacher Jennifer Whitson’s students are hard at work on several more projects to honor veterans—this time involving those who served during the Vietnam era.
Students from two of her classes are working on three projects. One is to create a Vietnam War Monument to place on the Crawford County Courthouse lawn. The second is looking up Missourians whose names are on Vietnam Veterans Memorial (“The Wall”) in Washington D.C. If there are no photographs of these people on record, then the students are attempting to locate a photo to go with the name. And the third project currently under way involves researching the seven men from Crawford County whose names are on The Wall.
Students in Whitson’s classes are devoted to these projects and she explained that they continue to work on them because “(the soldiers) deserve to be more than just a name,” and “they gave, and we’re giving back.” Several of the youth have offered to continue work on these projects even after they leave her class, or even leave the middle school and move on to the high school.
Whitson noted that Crawford County Commissioners had requested that she involve her students in the creation of a Vietnam War Monument after their great success in bringing together a Korean War Monument for the county. But, after Whitson was asked to work on the Vietnam War Monument, controversy arose from some county residents who felt that only names of those who served in the country of Vietnam during the war should be on the memorial.
In researching, Whitson contacted the State of Missouri’s Adjutant General’s office in Jefferson City to ask if honoring all veterans of the period was appropriate. She was told it was, and was encouraged to continue with the endeavor. Whitson also contacted the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund in Washington D.C. That organization, with Jan Scruggs leading the effort, created the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (“The Wall”).
Whitson reported that she asked, “Are we doing the right thing in honoring all veterans of our county who served during the Vietnam War Era? All who were asked (drafted or volunteered) to stand up for our country when our government asked them to?” The response she was given was, “Yes, you are doing the right thing. We (Vietnam Veterans Memorial) have honored those who were killed; you should honor all of them. Keep going.”
Whitson herself has very strong feelings about honoring all those who served during this time. “The Vietnam War Era veterans experienced different (assignments),” she said. “Some were deployed to Vietnam, some were sent to other countries, while others were asked to stay in our country to protect and defend our loved ones at home. All who chose to stand up for our country, when asked, or when they volunteered to do so, are people of honor. All were brothers and sisters in uniform, regardless of where they served. It is time that our country united behind all of them and welcomed them home—something that is long past due. It’s time for those who were sent to Vietnam and those who went to the other places our government sent them, to be united again, as one. Each had his or her part to play. All were needed.”
Whitson felt that the students involved in the project should learn about the Vietnam wartime and began teaching lessons on that era. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund also sent a number of resources to help students learn more about the work they were undertaking. One such item was a video, “To Heal a Nation,” that told the story of Jan Scrugg’s struggle in returning home after his time in Vietnam, his reasons for creating the memorial, and the difficulties he experienced in making it happen. Whitson noted that, as a result of this support from the national organization, the local students felt as though they had more support than opposition in their endeavor.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund’s Hometown Heroes program also started work to create lesson plans that could be used to help teachers enhance student learning about this war. The lessons involve interviewing veterans, learning more about the veterans from local areas who are listed on The Wall, appreciating and honoring all who served our nation with military service, and other similar activities. Whitson chose to involve Steelville Middle School in piloting some of those lessons, two of which spawned the other projects students are working on.
A new museum is scheduled to be built across the street from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to house items left at The Wall and to display the photos of those whose names are etched in the stone. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund challenged Steelville students to locate photos for all Missourians whose names are on The Wall, but who are not currently represented by a photograph. Whitson reported students have been working on this project for nearly a year, researching websites, and contacting friends and family members to try to find a picture of these men and women.
“Sometimes people give more contact names, or help with another person who is also on The Wall,” Whitson said. “People are very helpful and most are surprised, and grateful, that kids are choosing to do this for their loved ones.” Students in her class spoke of the excitement of contacting someone who might have a photo or information on one of the soldiers.
Students are collecting photos, and sometimes stories about the people, and these will be delivered to a representative of Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund when Whitson travels to Washington D.C. in June with a small group of Steelville Middle School students.
The third project, another of the Hometown Heroes lessons, involved asking students to learn as much as they could about the local veterans who died as a result of their involvement in the Vietnam War. There are seven men from Crawford County who are listed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial: Carl Bockewitz, Neal Crowder, Richard Dicus, Eddie Halbert, Phillip Ives, George E. Johnston and Cliff Mullen.
“These were men who had families they loved, had hobbies, protected their younger siblings, and even had plans for the future,” Whitson said.
Students have worked in small groups to gather information on the seven men. They have attempted to contact family members of the fallen in order to get a feeling for the man behind the name. In addition to learning to search obituaries for helpful information, students have also learned to search online for news stories. Three Rivers Publishing owner Rob Viehman helped in locating the original stories that were published in the Crawford Mirror or Cuba Free Press for several of the men. On Monday, one student made a phone call to a sister of Crowder who lived in California. During that call, the student learned that one of Crowder’s friends who had watched him die in the war had come home and named his son Neal in honor of his friend.
The groups have created binders with the information gleaned for each of the veterans. The plans are to send one copy to Washington D.C., to send a copy to the family, and to save one copy for Whitson’s classroom. An additional copy may be placed in the local library for future researchers to access.
Whitson noted, “We are still looking for family members or friends of George E. Johnston of the Bourbon or Sullivan area. We only have the information found on the www.vvmf.org website. We have no photo of him, nor is the photo we have for Carl Bockewitz a good one.”
She added, “We hope someone reading this article will have information that will give us a better idea of what any of the seven from our county was like—their personalities, hobbies, school experiences, anything that makes them real for us. We want them to become more than just names carved into stone—they were real people.”
As a result of Steelville’s participation in the Hometown Heroes program, Whitson received an invitation from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund for her and one of her students to go to Washington D.C. in June to participate in the Hometown Heroes Launch event on Wednesday, June 25 at the Library of Congress. All expenses for Whitson, one student, and that student's guardian will be paid for, including airfare, hotel, and local transportation.
The message she received stated, “We plan to have five stand-out Hometown Heroes Pilot Programs represented, and yours is definitely one of them!”
STILL SEEKING NAMES