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Students connect with veterans for firsthand look at history

April 13, 2014
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Coronado High School students studying history put down their books this month to hang out with the people who lived it.

Students from Jill Haffley's classes spent a day at the Palisades at Broadmoor Park, a senior living community, talking with people who lived through World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam.

"They may not remember everything from class," Haffley said as her students fanned out to listen to seniors. "But they will remember this."

Haffley has worked to connect her students to veterans and seniors for seven years as part of a project in conjunction with the Library of Congress. Her honor students record their discussions and submit them to the library in Washington, D.C., for archiving as part of a program to capture oral history.

Students get an up-close version of history that can't be found otherwise.

"You get to put yourselves in their shoes," sophomore Morgan Wessells said.

Chuck Shaw, who served in Vietnam with the Merchant Marines and later served in Germany with the Army during the Cold War, said talking to students gave him a chance to re-examine what he has learned for his experience.

"They wondered what I learned from my time in the service," Shaw said. "I told them that I learned that war never solves the problem."

While history books these days dedicate few pages to war, Haffley said it is a topic to which her students can relate.

The 15- and 16-year-olds have grown up in the shadow of 9/11 and combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"They can draw conclusions and then and now, and how they mirror each other," Haffley said.

The project was backed by the Foundation for School District 11, which picked up transportation costs.

More than tales of combat, students learned how youthful experiences can follow them for life.

Bob McHugh, an 86-year-old who served in the Army during the Korean War, told the Coronado kids that his time in the service prepared him for a life in the business world.

"You learn certain skills in the military, and you translate them to the balance of your life," McHugh said. "I'm still doing that today."

McHugh left active duty after serving two years and went on to jobs in Colorado Springs, culminating with the presidency of Colorado Interstate Gas.

"I fell back on my military skills to sort things out and set priorities."

Sophomore Kristen Santy said her time with the seniors made history come alive.

"You get to hear it from the people who experienced it," she said.

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