North Hills Middle School hosts Vietnam War documentary
The Vietnam War remains a taboo subject in our country, and high school history classes do not give it the coverage it deserves, according to North Hills Middle School social studies teacher, Joe Welch.
“None of our students have a firm grasp on what Vietnam was. Not many kids know anything about it. It's not discussed in schools until students are ready to graduate. It doesn't get the attention it should. World War II gets a ton of play and students get involved and know all the generals.
But mention Ho Chi Minh and the kids chuckle. They have no idea who he was,” Welch said. So when WQED asked local groups and organizations to host a one-hour screener event of Ken Burns and Lynn Novick's newest 10-part, 18-hour documentary series, “The Vietnam War,” Welch jumped at the chance to get North Hills students involved.
He offered the space at North Hills Middle School so community members could attend the event. About 75 people attended, which took place Sept. 25, and also included a discussion panel of three local Vietnam veterans.
“Each of the veterans got very emotional. It was quite moving. The audience was captivated,” said Cathy Cook, manager of education projects at WQED.
The evening ended with seven North Hills ninth-graders presenting a short biography on a different MIA or POW from the area.
All the research was conducted outside of class on a voluntary basis.
Hannah Sciulli, 14, or Ross, researched Maj. Norbert Maier, who served in the Air Force.
“He was riding in the back of a plane. The plane crashed and his seat malfunctioned. He was thrown into the cockpit,” Sciulli said.
Maier and the pilot ejected from their F-105G. They were missing in action until they were found and rescued, miles from the crash site.
“Everyone died in the crash except (Maier) and the pilot. He was from Avalon, and he died in 2001,” Sciulli said.
Doug Bensch, 14, of West View, researched 40-year-old Air Force fighter jet pilot Col. William Clare Coltman.
“It was foggy and he crashed. He was missing in action. He was eventually declared dead six years later. In 2003, they found his teeth and returned them to his family,” said Bensch.
Throughout the research, students learned more about the war overseas and the resulting conflict at home.
Bensch's grandfather served in the navy during Vietnam.
“I liked how this research connected to the stuff I already knew about the war,” Bensch said.
PBS presented each of the seven students with an authentic MIA/POW bracelet with their serviceman's name on it.
“Our approach to teaching social studies is to establish a connection for students to appreciate the past in unique ways,” Welch said.
He plans to expand the project and submit the students' final work to the 2017 National History Day Contest. This year's theme is “Conflict and Compromise in History.”
The PBS documentary, “The Vietnam War,” tells the epic story of one of the most consequential, divisive, and controversial events in American history through archival footage, photographs, historical television broadcasts, home movies, secret audio recordings from inside the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations, and the testimony of nearly 80 witnesses from all sides.
It aired on WQED on Sept. 17-21 and 24-28. It will air again in November and January.
Laurie Rees is a Tribune-Review contributor.