You can learn about history from textbooks or online resources, but to hear it from someone who was there is a different story.
As a way to preserve history, Webster Elementary School teacher Lori Herring and her students created an interview book of stories from local veterans. They presented a copy of the "Vietnam Veterans’ Interviews Book" to the Webster County Veterans Memorial Association on Tuesday at The Marshfield Mail office. The book was written by fourth, fifth and sixth graders over a period of the last three years.
"Many of those interviewed were local veterans who gave their time to come and visit my class and check rough copies of the written work," said Herring. "A number of others were relatives of students, and this opened new lines of communication among family members on a topic that is difficult. The majority of the interviews were in person, though a few were done by phone, by email and by letter."
Each veteran was given a list of questions, such as "How old were you when the Vietnam War began?," "Where were you stationed?" or "How did you keep in touch with family while you were overseas?" Herring said since the interview queries were general, then the information asked and given were doable for all of them.
"If the veteran felt able or ready to share specific moments of their time in service, we quietly took notes, receiving only what each person felt able to share," said Herring.
It started with interviews about the Great Depression in 2006. Herring's students compiled the interviews into a book. The Webster County Historical Society liked the book so much that they printed it and sold it in their gift shop until it had to be reprinted because the books sold out. From there, Herring’s students explored the 1940s era and World War II.
"We did interviews with World War II veterans," said Herring. "From there, we did the 1950s and focused on the Korean War."
It took about four years to finish the Vietnam War veterans book because some of the veterans didn't feel like talking just yet, according to Herring. One of the veterans recorded in the book was William Uchtman, who served during the Vietnam War, along with his twin brother, John Uchtman. William Uchtman’s brother died in 2011, but he still remembers the experiences both of them had to go through.
"Me and my twin brother, John, were drafted at the same time," said Uchtman. "I went first and then he did. My cousin from West Plains was drafted, but he was wounded in Vietnam. He told me and my brother about basic training and the rifle range. He told us if you knock 32 targets down, they won’t put you in the infantry, but you will help support them."
According to Herring, the project helped students learn from the men and women who lived during the war. She said they were grateful for the time each person spent with them, helping them understand how things were back then.
"In the words of one of the veterans, 'The Vietnam War should be learned by students from the men and women who lived it. It cannot be learned from a textbook alone, written by people who were not there,'" said Herring. "We believed that, like our World War II and Korean War books, the stories these veterans have to share are genuine history. It is not hard to image the moments shared about Vietnam when the man in front of you is holding and showing you the bullet that went into him and was removed."
The Vietnam Veterans book was presented to Uchtman and Tom Tomlinson, commander of the Webster County Veterans Memorial Association, by student Marlee Cantrell-Harris.
"We are grateful for Lori Herring and her students getting these stories out there," said Tomlinson. "We have an archive and we will put it there, but first we will make it available to our members."
Herring and her students plan to present a copy of the book to the Webster County Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the American Legion. In addition, a copy will be donated to the Missouri archives in Jefferson City and will be included in the military section of the archives.