CMS veteran

Coffee County Middle School students Cadie Prater, left, and Chloe Gannon interview USAF veteran Charles Whilote.

Students often read about wars and learn of veterans’ sacrifice through words on a page, but Coffee County Middle School’s eighth grade English classes are this year’s Veterans Day lesson one step further. They are participating in a Veterans History Project and are interviewing veterans about their service to gain firsthand knowledge of their sacrifice, duty and commitment to community.

“I want the kids to walk away with a deeper appreciation of community and a deeper appreciation of what our veterans have sacrificed in serving our country,” said CCMS English teacher James Hoggard.

The project mirrors the Veterans History Project of the Library of Congress that collects and preserves the firsthand accounts of wartime veterans. Participating veterans in the CCMS project, however, are not limited to those who have served in a war.

Veterans are videotaped answering a series of prearranged questions. A parent, teacher or guardian is present for the interview. The videos are for class use only and,  if requested by the veteran, the video can remain private.

Some videos will be watched during class for class discussion.

Subjects are encouraged to bring medals and other memorabilia and included anecdotes in the interviews.  

Hoggard explained that the whole student body was required to read “Sink or Swim,” a novelization of the story of a 12-year-old who assumes his brother’s identity and joins the Navy during WWII. 

“Even though we’re an English class, and we do a lot of reading…and talk(ing) about the text, but that doesn’t mean anything if you’re not getting out and…apply it to your community somehow,” Hoggard said.

“The book is inspired by a real sailor…Having read this, I thought, who inspires service and sacrifice more than the veterans?”

Hoggard then designed the project with similar questions to those the Library of Congress uses in its Veterans History Project.    

Many of his students interviewed family members who had served. For those who don’t know any  veterans, Hoggard contacted the local chapter of the VFW for interviewees. 

Hoggard said that one student in particular gained previously undiscovered knowledge of his grandfather’s experiences in combat.

“His grandfather never told anybody about his service. Yet he (gave) the interview with nobody else in the room and only with his grandson. They have a record now of their grandfather and what he did when he…served in war. They have that forever, and he walks away with a deeper appreciation for his family, for those who served and an example of someone he can emulate.”

Close to 50 veterans are being interviewed for the project. Veterans also visited the class to present their experiences in the service. 

VFW Commander Kimberly King said that the event provided much needed experience to the students.

“Although Arnold Air Force Base is nearby, it is mainly an engineering complex, so we do not live in an area where there is a strong military presence. 

“The children in our area are not exposed to many military members so their understanding of what we do is very limited.  Each of our veterans is like a time capsule to the past. We experienced the military in different ways, places and in past conflicts. We saw how the values and morals of our country were tested and we want them to understand why this is so important.  Especially from a veterans point of view,” she said.

John has been with the Manchester Times since May 2011. He covers Lifestyles in addition to handling education reporting and general news assignments.John has won Tennessee Press Association awards for Best News Photo and placed in numerous other categories. John is a 1994 graduate of Tullahoma High School, a graduate of Motlow State Community College and earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from Middle Tennessee State University. He lives in Tullahoma, and enjoys the outdoors with his wife, Mitsy, and his 17-month-old, Sean.

Staff Writer

John has won Tennessee Press Association awards for Best News Photo and placed in numerous other categories. He is a graduate of THS, Motlow and MTSU. He lives in Tullahoma, and enjoys the outdoors with his wife, Mitsy, and his 17-month-old, Sean.

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