A Gold Star endeavor

2011-06-22T12:33:00Z A Gold Star endeavorBy Mary Wilds Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
June 22, 2011 12:33 pm  • 

ST. JOHN | The project started simply enough.

In 1986, Tom Clark and students in his Advanced Placement U.S. History class at Lake Central High School set out to get information on the five Lake Central students who gave their lives in Vietnam.

Twenty-five years later, they've collected the stories and photographs of 1,199 men and one woman, all from Indiana, who died in the conflict.

Participation in the Gold Star Honor Roll Project has been Clark's personal and academic labor of love for a quarter century.

Clark, an Army veteran who felt moved to serve his country again - most recently in Afghanistan in 2006-2007 - joined his latest group of young historians and researchers near the end of the school year in a classroom that could double as a museum.

There are photographs, artifacts, reminders of sacrifice over the years in it.

The state of Indiana lost 1,621 soldiers in the conflict, and Clark is determined to keep on going "til the stories of all are told. "I hope never to retire," he joked.

"I hope they spread my ashes in the halls."

The real credit, he insisted, are the many students over the years who persevered and pressed onward despite what was a difficult situation at times.

Back in the 1980s, the Internet hadn't been invented yet, and students had to resort to letter-writing, phone calls and personal contact.

Lake Central graduate Brent Siderbender was one of many students who knocked on doors and personally talked to families, he said.

"Back when we started, emotions were still raw, and some people said, ‘I don't want to talk about what happened to my son,'" Clark said.

This year, despite all the new technology, students still follow the same process their forebears did: they are assigned a specific file and must find out all they can about that person, usually by contacting the individual's family.

In 2011, one student put all the pictures collected so far into a database. This year's team included Emily Miles, Alice Wasylowsky, Marisha Miskus, Bogdon Jebtic, Lindsay Peterson, Emily Urato, Megan Kuechle, Emily Vandervelde and Robert Reiplinger.

The information gathered by Clark's students over the years has been used in commemorations across the country, and the Gold Star project has also taken students to Washington, D.C., Denver, Houston and Indianapolis.

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