New Madrid students write soldiers' stories

Saturday, November 29, 2008 | 8:48 p.m. CST

NEW MADRID — A high school writing project is preserving the stories of local soldiers with a book.

"New Madrid's Hometown Heroes" was written by the 14 students in H. Riley Bock's 2008 English III class at New Madrid County Central High School.

"I started doing this type of project about six years ago when I started teaching," Bock said. "This is the fifth book but the first one we had a publisher for. The others were published in-house."

The cost of publishing the book was underwritten by the Bank of New Madrid after the idea was presented by Richard Swink, a marketing consultant for community banks.

"The very first one was developed by a teacher named Jim Lind in Hendersonville, Tenn.," Swink said. "He is an honors history teacher and did this as a class project."

Swink described it as "a labor of love." He and two others have acted as liaisons between the publisher and teachers in about 10 communities over the past year or so.

"It's an important project," Swink said. "I think it's important that we capture the stories of these soldiers, and the way in which we capture them is extremely important, as well."

"The interaction between the students and the veterans is a very important part of the book," he said. "Instead of just reading history, they get to actually write history."

Chris Denning, 17, said Bock asked students to write about the veterans' childhoods, experiences during their time in the armed forces and their lives after leaving the service.

"I wrote about a Mr. Buddy Basham. He was one of the people at the American Legion where my mom works. I believe he is, if not the oldest, one of the oldest members there. He served in World War II. He was on the U.S.S. Alabama. He worked seven decks down. He was kind of like an engineer," Denning said. "I thought it was really cool I got to get to know someone who served for our country and also someone who served a very long time ago."

"It was really kind of shocking because I really didn't know they went through that kind of stuff," said Hunter Borton, 17, who wrote about Charles C. "Tip" Clark, a B-17 crew member who spent four years in German prisoner-of-war camps during World War II. "After I got done talking to Tip, it opened my eyes. ... It changed the picture I previously had in my head."

"It had a pretty big impact because I just didn't know what they went through and I realized the significance of having Veterans Day and why we honor them as much as we do. It really stunned me, how much they went through over there," Borton said. "I know now why they stand up and salute when we sing certain songs and why they act the way they do."

Denning said the experience gave him a new perspective on World War II, as well.

"It gave me a different side of it — a more personal, human side instead of just learning about what weapons did what, what armies did what," he said.

Other students in Bock's class interviewed and wrote about veterans who served during the Korean War, the Vietnam War or in more recent engagements.

"I think the students enjoyed it, got a lot out of it," Bock said. "It was a fun project for me. I got to read about a lot of different people from the county — some I knew, some I didn't know."

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