O’NEALS – When a Black Hawk helicopter touched down on the broad expanse of lawn at Minarets High School on Tuesday, Nov. 13, it was just the beginning of a day set aside to honor our veterans.
More than 20 veterans volunteered to come to the school and tell their stories, sharing real-life experience with students who have been learning about these topics in class and from books.Students in Daniel Ching’s Honors World History class spent the day conducting video interviews with men and women who served in all branches of the U.S. military.
The students’ questions explored just what it takes to be a soldier, and what the veterans learned about themselves and the world through their service. The answers provided insights into a time when the greatest generation answered their country’s call, the double-tragedy of Viet Nam era veterans who had to deal with scorn and abuse, and the desert wars of more recent times.
Amelia Giffen and Marlee Evans, both sophomores, say they discussed the questions they would ask with Mr.Ching and other students in class.
“We wanted to be sure our interview questions didn’t sound like an interrogation or therapy,” said the girls. “We wanted to find key items in their stories to follow up on, and encourage them to share those with us.”
The interviews went on throughout the day in the school’s two studios, in Mr. Ching’s classroom, and outside next to the Viet Nam/Gulf era M113 personnel carrier, on loan from a military museum in Paso Robles, thanks to Gary Corippo.
The students ran the show, including shooting the video, running the sound, conducting the interviews and serving as the audience.
Questions were asked about boot camp, combat experiences, friendships, the far-reaches of the world, and what they carried. The final question of each interview was, “Why is it important for us to know your story, and what can our generation take away from this experience?”
Many responded with a version of the answer shared by Duel Jeans, former (and forever) U.S. Marine, who responded this way: “I would recommend that any young man or woman who doesn’t know what to do with their life, take the first step, as I did in the Marine Corp. Even though I have a college education, I learned more in the Marine Corps than anywhere else. Everything I learned, I learned on my own or from my commanding officers.”
This is the second year for the veterans project. Last year, two students won film awards for the movies they created from their videos, including the Slick Rock Student Film Festival, a central California film competition for middle and high school students. The videos were also shown at teachers conferences, college campuses, and even corporate offices.
History teacher Daniel Ching says last year’s video project was his proudest moment as a teacher, “to witness my students engaged in meaningful conversations with men and women who had served our country.”
Ching feels that veterans have something unique and valuable to offer today’s young people.
“The primary goal for me as a teacher is not just to teach my students history,” he says, “it is to teach students how to be good citizens, good community members and good people. I think veterans, more than anyone else, understand that as a collective we’re so much stronger than as individuals, and I really want to convey that to my students.”
With their interviews complete, the students spent time sitting and talking with the 43 veterans and their families, including representatives from the Marine Corps League and the VFW, asking more questions and looking through the memorabilia that many brought to share.
Dinner was served to the honored guests by the students, and included desserts prepared by the Culinary Arts Institute, a new school in the Chawanakee district.
The evening was a collaborative effort at Minarets, with participation from the floral department, the music department, the media department, Patrick Wilson and Jon Corippo, leadership classes, and many more students and teachers.
After dinner had been served, Grant Hall, whose father Lieutenant Colonel Dave Hall, Commander of the 140th Aviation Regiment who delivered the Black Hawk to Minarets, thanked the veterans, both for their service, and their sharing.
“I’m honored that you’ve taken the time to allow my generation to learn from your experiences. It’s so difficult for us to comprehend.
“When my father was deployed to Iraq, technology allowed us to hear his voice and see his face,” said Hall. “I cannot imagine not knowing where your spouse, son or daughter is, and if they’re okay. Back then, months went by, and maybe you received a letter, but by then so much had changed.”
Steve Hall, retired Naval Commander and past representative to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, next addressed the gathering of some 120 guests and students.
“Events like this bring some healing for veterans, validate their sacrifices, and more importantly, they give you a chance to see history through the eyes of those who lived it.
“For 28 years I served in the United States Navy. I was privileged to serve with some of the most intelligent, dedicated, and caring people I have ever known. I knew many veterans who weren’t as fortunate as I was. Men and women who returned home crippled in their bodies, in their minds, or in both by the horror that is war. And there were those who gave the full measure of their lives because they believed in something bigger than themselves.
“Hopefully, the lessons we share will help you avoid the mistakes we made, and encourage you to go beyond what you think you can do.
“My journey was a scared 17-year-old at boot camp, to a U. S. Delegate to NATO. Your lives are yet to be written. Your potential for good is only as limited as you choose to make it.”
Closing speaker, LTC. Dave Hall, spoke directly to the veterans about the impact they made on the students.
“From your discussions today these kids have learned that the military of today and the past is not filled with war mongers. On the contrary, it is made up of ordinary people whose selflessness is so great, they’re willing to give their lives to insure that the person standing next to them, and the freedom earned by veterans like you, continues to flourish.
“The history books, which are quite sterile with details, come alive through your stories,” said Ltc. Hall. “A soldier in Iraq once eloquently wrote, ‘Wars aren’t fought in the halls of Congress, on op-ed pages or duing dinner converstations. They’re fought by courageous but desperately tired Americans, living day after day in mortal danger, with families who live in constant fear for their safety, and bear the entire burden of their absence.’ I thank you for sharing your stories.”
The students will be editing their videos over the next couple weeks, and they will be posted on the school’s youtube channel when they’re finished.
To see one of the award-winning videos from last year, edited by Haley Honeycutt, click here.