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Veterans Tell Their Stories To Minarets Students

O’NEALS – For the third time in as many years the Sophomore Honors History Class at Minarets High School honored local veterans with a dinner and a day of personal interviews, learning from the life experience of those who serve.

The special Veterans Day Dinner Project, held this year on Nov. 12, was the brainchild of then World and U.S. History teacher Daniel Ching, who is now the Director of Charter at Minarets.

Ching has made it his mission to make the study of history an interactive, vibrant experience for the kids at Minarets.

Duel Jeans preparing for interview 11-13-12“When someone looks at a high school, they say ‘Wow, they’ve got a great football team,’ or a great FFA program, or ‘Hey look at all those science projects they’re making over there,'” said Ching to the crowd on this evening. “Have you ever heard, ‘Wow, that school’s got a great history department?’ With things like the Veterans Dinner, we can make it that way.”

Before serving dinner to the veterans who participate, the students first spend the day conducting one-on-one interviews, hearing first-hand accounts from those who lived through the events they are studying in history class.

Rick ByrtleThe students’ questions explore just what it takes to be a soldier, and what the veterans learned about themselves and the world through their service. The answers provide 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.

The kids are in charge of the process, including shooting the video, running the sound, conducting the interviews and serving as the audience. The videos are then edited into moving compilations of all the interviews.

In 2011, 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.

Jahmaal Sawyer History Teacher Minarets - photo Gina ClugstonThe videos have also been shown at teachers conferences, college campuses and corporate offices. Ching says he has even been in the Apple Headquarters boardroom in Cupertino, sharing the students’ work. Now he is working with new History Teacher Jahmaal Sawyer, to continue the work started three years ago.

When the interviews were finished, the vets and their friends and families gathered in a room set up especially for them. After a rousing bugle call of “To the Color” by Music Teacher Bill Samuelson and the pledge of allegiance, the students were honored to serve dinner to those who had so bravely served their country.

Students serve dinner to veterans - photo Gina ClugstonDaniel Ching acknowledged the veterans in attendance as the meal began.

“This has been an incredible experience,” said Ching. “You guys come for the day and do the interviews then we move on. But for my students and for myself, it has been very significant. Talking to you and hearing your stories has made a big impact on my teaching and on me as a person, and more importantly, on the students. You are truly helping to bridge the gap between generations.

Faces at Veterans Day Dinner - photo Gina ClugstonChing told the vets that even if the students don’t choose to enlist in the military, spending time with people such as themselves will make them all better citizens.

“It’s important for the kids to hear from those so committed to our county and to the people they love, that they’re willing to leave that behind even if only for a while, because they want to secure that for others. To me it’s the ultimate act of service.”

Sakura SchweitzerHonors student Sakura Schweitzer took the podium to remind everyone of the words of writer Elmer Davis who penned the words, “This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave.”

“Veterans Day is not just one day of the year, it’s every day,” said Schweitzer. “Thank you for being brave, thank you for being honorable, thank your for being strong, and thank you for serving our country.”

World War II veteran Bill Bastian shared his story as a Staff Officer in the 6th Engineer Brigade, which took care of the unloading of vehicles and equipment on Omaha Beach during the Normandy Invasion on June 6, 1944.

“We didn’t know where we were going to land,” said Bastian. “We were given two things. One was a pencil with a clip on it. You take the clip off and hold the pencil vertically and balance the clip on the pencil point. It becomes a magnet and an escape compass. This one is nearly 70 years old.”

Tom Barrans and father-in-law Bill BastianBastian then showed everyone the second thing given to him on that day – a map of the Normandy area, printed on thin white silk so that it was waterproof, and folded up becomes “almost nothing.” With these two things, he said, he headed out to his assignment.

One day not long ago, while visiting with his son-in-law Tom Barrans, a Marine who served in Viet Nam, he mentioned the “escape map.”

“I never talked about it all these years,” said Bastian. But after locating it in his desk, he and Tom discovered that there was some very faint writing on the back. It was a letter, written to his wife just after the invasion, and mailed to her nearly 70 years ago. It was discovered in her cedar chest after she passed away. He had forgotten all about it.

Sure he could not get past the emotions of reading the letter himself, Bill Bastian asked that son-in-law Tom read it aloud:

My Dearest Mel and Beverly,

Well honey, today has passed, passed by just as yesterday and all the yesterdays before it. No time to stop and think that today marks another year of independence for our family, our home and our country.

Here we are in the heart of Europe, fighting so that our home will remain the land of the free and the home of the brave. Fittingly, the war clouds which hang perpetually over the skies of war torn France have cleared away, and with a steady breeze ruffling our proud banner as she waves, the sun sinks below the horizon to the west, and home.

It is hard for us here in the European theater to remember and realize that you at home are even now gazing up at that same sun that is now fading from view. If only there was some way to contact our loved ones at home, what a story we could tell. Mere words on paper cannot express the thoughts which constantly press on our minds.

Our only escape from the world of memory is hard driving work. We work to enable time to pass away quickly. We eat only to keep our bodies nourished and we sleep the sleep of the weary. Seldom do dreams of anguish make one’s nights an ordeal. Tired sleep drowns out the drones of German planes, the crash of bombs and the crack-crack of guns firing into the sky.

Fear was left on the beach days ago, left there with bodies of comrades. There is no place here for fear or cowardice. Caution is a virtue, fear is a vice. One soon becomes immune to sniper fire, mines and bombing. one begins to distrust everyone, every place not of American origin.

To me this is not a battle to free France, it is a battle to preserve the freedom of America. If the people of France gain their freedom in the conflict, it is something which they should forever be thankful for. I have acquire the feeling that many Nazi flags are now hidden where the American ones were before we came ashore.

This map of western Europe is a special light-weight, waterproof map which is issued and hidden in your clothes in case of being captured. It would be a great help in escaping back to England. I carried it into France sewn into my field jacket, but luckily it was never needed. So tonight I’m sending it home to you, dear, as a letter on Independence Day 1944. Today was the first time in our lives we don’t desire any fireworks.

Well Darling, I hope and pray that you and baby Beverly are in fine health and that the war will soon end so that I can return to you, and home.

Goodnight Dearest,

Love, Your Bill

Bob McKeeJohn Johnson - Specialist 4 U.S. ArmyA moment of silence was observed for two veterans who had participated in past videos, and who passed away this past year, Bob McKee, Sr., and John Johnson.

To view Veterans Day Dinner Project videos from past years, click here, and visit the Minarets High School website here.

Veterans who participated in this years Veterans Day Dinner Project:

Everett Krippner
Bud Russell
Bill Bastian
William Kiel
Duel Jeans
Michael Magee
Craig Taylor
Ned McDougald
Don Watkins
Tom Barrans
Albert Hayden
Ron McCullough
Dave Hall
Jon Van Noy
Frank Unruh
Don Watkins
Jack Shields
Ken Offenback
Robert Hayes
Jim Sheppard
Rick Byrtle
John Sommerville
George Priest
Mr. Jones

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