Twenty-three years ago, during my teacher training days, I was assigned to Lake Central High School to sit in on a class taught by an experienced teacher, Tom Clark. I was to observe the way that he interacted with his students and his methodologies.
I walked into Clark's classroom and was drawn in almost immediately to the posters, flags, medals and historical artifacts of his Gold Star Memorial project.
Over the years, Clark has kept in touch with me, much more to my benefit than to his. With someone like Clark, and to a large extent his students, it is not an obsession with war – it is an obsession with history.
How do we tell that story, how do we share the experiences of history and what is more dramatic than the sacrifice that our own local heroes have made?
I was doing my usual email check last week when I ran across an email from Clark, part of our disjointed correspondence over the last few months. He got busy, I got busy, and we never reconnected until that note came across my screen. The rest of the emails would have to wait.
Monday, Clark and his students will hit the national news, featured on the CBS Evening News at 5:30 p.m. for their work on the Gold Star Memorial project.
Over the past 27 years, Clark and hundreds of his students have collected, catalogued and archived letters, mementos, and remembrances of soldiers killed in war, from World War II to the Gulf Wars.
What started as a project to capture the stories of the 1,621 Hoosiers killed in Vietnam has grown to encompass so much more. Clark's students have proven definitively that this generation cares and can be passionate when advocating for their projects.
Students have interviewed and collected materials from families that lost someone long ago, say World War II, to parents that lost a son in Afghanistan.
Part of what makes this project remarkable is that it puts faces on those long lists of names detailing war casualties. When you go to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC or you read a history book, only part of the story is being told. What about the parents, wives, sons, daughters and other loved ones left behind?
The ongoing Lake Central project tells those stories through the words and mementos of the soldiers, along with the recollections of those left behind. Make no mistake about it, this project is far from complete.
Collecting this information and doing the interviews allow Clark's students to write history, to tell the story in a way that affects the story teller and the interviewer. That remarkable interaction cannot be put neatly into wooden cases.
Clark would be embarrassed to be praised for his work, so I won't do that to my friend of many years. I will say this - from the moment that I walked into that classroom 23 years ago, I have never forgotten how that experience affected me.
His students have gained a perspective that no amount of school work, standardized testing or lecturing will ever approach. Clark and his students tell these important stories to honor these heroes and the families that sacrificed so much.
They have written history for all of us.