Lessons in history

By BUSTER WOLFE,

Oak Grove High School students and teachers have been hosting a Veterans Day breakfast for the past 21 years. This year, organizers had hoped something different would happen in addition to the breakfast.

History teacher Diane Hardin wanted someone to talk with the veterans and record their memories to be used as an oral history project.

“Jerri Whitecotton is the chair of our department and she started this veterans breakfast,” Hardin said. “When I came on here at the high school and I started getting involved in the breakfast. I started to see men and talk with men and think, ‘Oh, my goodness, I hope someone has their story.’ Then I thought, ‘Well, we can’t depend on somebody else. We’re going to have to do it if it’s going to happen.’ At the end of last year, when Jerri started planning this year, we decided that we would just put it out there. So we did. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the response we wanted.”

In the crowd of veterans at the Temple Baptist Church Activity Center, only three were recorded for the project.

“To a history teacher, these men are a valuable resource,” Hardin said. “And we as history teachers also need to do a better job of teaching about the Vietnam war.”

Hardin said she discussed the project with some veterans at the breakfast.

“It was interesting because I talked with one gentleman who was not willing to go back and talk on camera,” she said. “He would talk one on one. He told me that he had served in Bastogne (France) during World War II and that was one of the worst places to be. He said they went without food for 90 days. He said that they stood out like a sore thumb in the green camo outfits (against the snow). Their officers got sheets and gave to them to cover up. He said they had snow above their knees.

“I said, ‘Would you be willing to talk to the people on camera?’ He said he would think about it and then he never went back.”

Hardin said the students and teachers who are involved in the project may have to spend more time with the veterans.

“It’s almost going to take people following these guys around and listening to them tell their stories and recording them when they walk and talk,” she said. “One of the thoughts that came out of this was if they weren’t willing to talk on camera, maybe some of the students or teachers could be encourage to go visit these men in their homes and record them.”

Hardin said she is worried that these veterans won’t live long enough to tell their stories.

“One of the reasons that we wanted to get these vets talking is because they are headed out the door,” she said. “It is hard to get people like that to talk.”

“When I was talking to the gentleman on the walker, I made reference to ‘Band of Brothers,’ and he said, ‘Well, ma’am, I lived the war; I don’t need to watch it on television,’” she said. “And we get a lot of that too. Then I felt really bad about asking him about it. But we don’t know what they went through and we just make these assumptions. We have to generalize on what we see on television and at the movies.”

Hardin said those veterans’ stories are priceless.

“I told the man, ‘Y’all have such wisdom and you save the world,” she said. “’You surely have some bits of wisdom that you need to impart on this generation because if it were left up to these students and save Europe today, we’d be in a heap of trouble.’ But again, none of them felt like they wanted to talk.”

Hardin found out once that a student had a connection with a World War II veteran.

“In the movie ‘Band of Brothers,’ one of those guys was in the VA center in Collins,” she said. “I don’t know if he’s still with us or not. I know that one day we were watching ‘Band of Brothers’ because I show it at the end of the year. Somebody said, ‘Hey, my next-door neighbor has a relative who is in that VA clinic and his one of the ‘Band of Brothers.’ There are just so many stories out there that people don’t realize.”

After compiling the stories, Hardin said she wasn’t sure what would happen to them.

“We were talking about just the stuff we got from these three guys,” she said. “What do we do with it now? How much editing do we do with it? Do we leave it in its raw form? We do hope to use it in our history classes. The neat thing right now – and it only happens in the fall semester – is that our English teachers are teaching World War II at the same time that we are teaching World War II. So maybe they can use some of it.”

Hardin said she is seeking out veterans who would be willing to tell their stories, on video or one on one with a recorder.,

“We are open to people calling us,” she said. “If you want to call us, we will sit down and we will be happy to talk with you.”

Hardin said anyone who wants to be a part of the oral history project can call her at (601) 606-5514 or Oak Grove High School at (601) 264-7232 and leave a message.