Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Mission Possible - Day Two at Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Note : This week I am participating in the Mission Possible Teacher Workshop in Washington D.C. The week is hosted by Model Classroom and Pearson.  The focus for the week is project based learning centered around learning opportunities in Washington D.C.  Projects will take place at NPR, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and the United States Holocaust Museum.

Day two of the workshop featured a different venue but a similar thread from yesterday - the power of story.  Yesterday we visited NPR and learned about the skills of interviewing.  Today we visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall in Washington.  Here the power of story will make a monument to the struggle of war speak.

I have visited the wall on previous visits to DC.  My first visit to the wall was as a high school student on vacation with my family.  I remember it was an emotional experience for my dad who was drafted to fight in the war but did not pass the pass the physical due to an injury.  He felt the guilt of not participating in a conflict which took the lives of so many of his peers. Almost 20 years ago I brought high school juniors to DC and we always made a point to visit the wall. The design of the monument is simple, almost demanding that emotion take center stage.

Prior to visiting the wall we were organized into small groups and assigned a Vietnam veteran who would speak with us and give us a tour at the wall.  My group was matched with Jerry Martin, a Marine who was awarded a Purple Heart and a Silver Star.  Mr. Martin spoke of his comrades and friends that he knew in Vietnam and now are names on the wall.  After spending an hour with Mr.  , who is a retired history teacher, I felt that I knew much more about the Vietnam War than I had ever experienced through a textbook.  The difference was the stories.  The stories behind the names.

Our various groups did some activities after our time with the veterans and one group asked people at the wall if they had any emotions in visiting the wall.  To everyone’s surprise, almost every person asked said they didn't have any emotions about visiting the wall.  For many people it appeared that visiting the wall was a just something to check off a list of things to do when visiting DC.  But here is the key - none of the people who said they really didn't have an emotional connection to visiting the wall had had a tour guide.  The difference again was the stories.  Without the stories the wall is just a list of names.

But as I reflect back on the experience at the wall today there is a bright hope for the future.  The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is currently in the planning and fundraising stages of a future education center.  This educational center will be a facility located next to the wall.  A place where people can go to build a connection to those names, through stories and experiences.  I can’t wait to come back in the future when more people walk away from the wall with a similar experience to the one I experienced today.  It was an emotional day and one that I will think of in the future every time I discuss the Vietnam War with students.

I also wanted to share an app that also helped me today as we visited the wall.  If you want to locate the name of a soldier on the wall there have always been books available in which you can look up the soldier via their last name.  The book then tells you the panel and line on which you can find that name.  But what if you don’t know the name of a soldier and instead want to see if anyone from your hometown is located on the wall? I used an app from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund which allowed me to search not only by name but also by state and/or city.  This app allowed me to quickly identify the five soldiers from my home community of Liberty, Missouri who are listed on the wall.  A great example of how an app can provide real time information as you visit a location and how it can enhance your experience. Check out the app on the Google Play Store.

1 comment:

  1. Eric, sounds like you are having a fantastic experience in DC. I was just there visiting my Uncle who is a long time DC resident.

    The best thing about DC is the fact that individuals can have a vivid experience of our nation's history which hopefully will inspire them to further investigation. Washington, DC is a phenomenal place to learn and I commend you for giving your time to help others experience a part of history. Let me know if me or my uncle can do anything to help you out during your journey.