McLean Co. High students studying World War II researching the lives of some of the more than 1,000 local veterans who served during the global conflict

McLean County News, Calhoun, Feb. 20, 2017

McLean students researching WWII veterans


Students from Gary Morris' World War II class were greeted by volunteers as they entered the McLean County Regional Family Research Center recently.

They wasted no time before heading to the shelves to continue their research. The students, in grades 10-12, are working in pairs to research the lives McLean County World War II veterans.

The project is one Morris said he came across when he took part of the Normandy Institute, run by the National History Day organization, which takes 15 teacher/student pairs and has them research D-Day and a veteran buried or on the Wall of the Missing in Normandy, France.

Morris did that first project with Abby Woosley, a former student who was selected in 2013 to research Madisonville veteran George Kelly.

"From there we went to Washington D.C. for five days, where experts came in and talked to us about Normandy and World War II, and all the little bits and pieces about D-Day, and after five days of intensive study ... then we took a plane trip to France," he said. "We went to Normandy for seven days. At that point, Abby got to do her eulogy at the Wall of the Missing at the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach."

When he had the opportunity to teach the World War II class this year, Morris said this was a project he wanted to have as an "integral part of what we did with this."

Called the Fallen Hero or Silent Hero project, Morris said students research the lives of deceased veterans before they went into the service, their lives in the service and what their hometown was like in the 1930s and 1940s.

"So you do a lot of original research," Morris explained. "The culmination is two things. One, they put together a web page on the person that anybody should be able to access. The second thing is that they're going to write eulogies for these folks. For this project, in late April, we're going to take a bus tour of cemeteries in the county and we're going to have them do their eulogies at the grave sites of these individuals, and we're going to videotape them."

The written and filmed eulogies will be included on the websites.

"When you study the second World War, a lot of people just look at the big names -- the generals, the admirals, the political leaders," he said. "They look at the battles, they look at names, dates and places. It sort of seems distant. This project allows people to make a personal connection with someone that was there."

Morris said more than 1,000 McLean Countians took part in World War II.

"This is an opportunity for them to create web pages to tell the stories of these McLean County folks and to tell the story of World War II in the process," he said.

According to Morris, work on the project began in January and the class will continue its research through the end of March, with a visit every Friday to the Research Center.

"This project is important, I think, from the standpoint of personalizing what's going on, making that connection with home, with McLean County and making that connection with a person -- a person they've never met, a person that, because it's a part of the Silent Hero project, they'll never get to meet," he said. "But they get to learn about that person's life and understand that at one point they were teenagers, just like these people in this room, before the war started. The war made dramatic impacts on their lives."

Seniors Ashton Shadwick and Cecilia Dupuis recently had a breakthrough in their research.

"At first I thought it was going to be really stupid, like I was going to be like 'OK,' because I've done research papers before," Shadwick said of the project. "I was like 'this is going to be totally easy.' But then it became kind of like a vendetta for us. There was nothing online. We had no information at all, so then we came here and we got a little bit, then (the trail) would go cold. Then we would come back the next day and find more. We've been working on it for a month now and today is probably the best day because we finally found a picture of him, so we know what he looks like."

Shadwick said when they began their research, they had no information other than a name.

Her project partner, senior Cecilia Dupuis, said the project was more difficult than expected.

"Usually when you do research, you at least have some idea of what you're getting into, but we had no idea," she said.

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