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Community values armed forces’ contributions

Great Falls Tribune • November 11, 2004 • Great Falls, Montana

by Peter Johnson

Simms High School gave a two-hour presentation in honor of local veterans Wednesday afternoon. Montana International Air Guard presented “Operation Freedom” which explained the history and importance of the American flag.

Memories were rekindled — and created — at a program Simms High School students put on Wednesday for veterans and community residents.

A couple of hundred students and residents filled the school gym, which was decorated in red, white and blue, for the multifaceted show.

When the Simms Choir sang the first verse of “America,” many older audience members joined in.

Government teacher Josh Clixby gave a wide-ranging talk that included memories of what he learned from his late grandfather, a World War II veteran.

Montana Air National Guard members presented a history of the American Flag in what they call “Operation Patriotism.”

Students Heidi Tynes and Chelsey Youngren recapped some of the interviews that Simms students did two years ago with more than 30 area veterans as part of the Montana Heritage Project.

They ranged from Army Air Corps Tech Sgt. Cullen Lee, a World War II prisoner in Germany, to Army veteran Dennis Speer, who talked about the post-traumatic stress that many Vietnam veterans suffered when they returned home.

Afterward, Pete Cummings, 87, an Army combat engineer in the South Pacific during World War II, said he was grateful for neighborhood high school kids who interviewed him two years ago.

“We spent a great evening together talking about my adventures,” he said.

“I think the project interviews were absolutely wonderful,” said Norma Blossom Olsen, who was interviewed about her days as a civilian Navy welder during World War II. The welders squeezed through 18-inch holes wearing leather outfits to make welds in ship bottoms. “Those kids had no idea what we went through.”

The high school students said they enjoyed reviewing the histories their classmates wrote two years ago.

“A lot of ordinary people in small towns like ours did pretty heroic things in wartime that we never realized,” Tynes said.

Simms is one of 11 schools that have taken part in the Montana Heritage Project, administered by the Montana Historical Society. Seven more schools are joining this year.

The project includes taking oral histories of veterans and doing community history research.

All of the students’ research is placed in the Montana Historical Society Archives for use by future generations.

During the 2005-06 school year, the Montana Heritage Project is offering grants of up to $1,000 for high school teachers to get their students involved in researching and saving stories of local veterans and those left behind during the Vietnam War.

The project is funded by the Liz Clairborne and Art Ortenberg Foundation. For more information, call project director Marcella Sherfy at 406-444-1759.

In other area schools:

# Twenty-four juniors at Centerville High are starting a year-long project to interview Vietnam War military veterans, family members left behind and residents who protested the war when they were in college, said history teacher Ted Richards.

This fall the students are learning about the Vietnam War and how to draw interview subjects out with open-ended questions.

They will interview people for their history classes, write essays about what they learned for English classes, and make power point presentations in their computer classes.

# Chester students, who have done some “incredibly interesting” oral histories of veterans over the past several years, are figuring out what sort of community history projects to focus on this year, said English and technology teacher Renee Rasmussen.

Some students could opt to do interviews with Vietnam veterans, she said, but it sometimes takes years for vets to be ready to open up about what they went through.

# Brady students from kindergarten through high school staged a community show for veterans Wednesday, said English teacher Becky Duty.

Grade-school students sang patriotic songs. Middle school kids sang and did skits in a USO-style show. High school students recited poetry, patriotic speeches and essays about what it must be to be a soldier.

Duty said the school is considering doing a Montana Heritage Project.

# Great Falls secondary schools are doing a variety of Veterans Day activities today, said Assistant Superintendent Dick Kuntz.

Students from Skyline Alternative High School made a thank you card and sent it to veterans at the Fort Harrison VA hospital near Helena. They also will watch a movie about World War I and its aftermath and discuss the conflicts in which American veterans have served.

The names of East Middle School teachers who are military veterans will be announced over the loudspeaker and music classes will play the national anthems of America, Canada and Britain. Two U.S. flags that flew over Iraq will be displayed.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey
on 11/11 at 08:51 PM
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