Storytelling Through the Voices of Veterans

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Storytelling Through the Voices of Veterans

Clemente Juniors are exploring the art of storytelling through Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, a novel comprised of short stories capturing the experiences of young soldiers in the Vietnam War. English III students began this unit by learning about the war and Vietnamese culture. At this point in the novel, students are diving deeper into the stories, the experiences of the soldiers, and the lives of global citizens during the 1960s. Through writing, students have been asked to reflect on how war stories portray individuals’ experiences and how these experiences might affect the individuals after the war.  

Students will also have the unique opportunity to hear first-hand accounts from Vietnam war veterans. Culinary master, Chef Leszczewicz, and English teacher, Ms. Rice, will share letters and stories from their family members who served in Vietnam. This will allow students to further their understanding of the experiences of war veterans, as well as the impacts of war on societies. Students have shared their interest in the book, saying that it is also teaching them about history to which they had not been exposed previously. For their summative assessment,  each student will complete a response to literature in which they will have the opportunity to write from the perspective of one of the characters. This will push students to delve into the character development throughout the novel and develop their creative writing skills.

To supplement the unit’s objectives and classroom learning, teachers are working with the National Veterans Art Museum, located in the Six Corners neighborhood of Chicago, to arrange a student visit and panel discussion of veterans to speak to Clemente students. The museum’s exhibit includes an interactive component in which patrons can put on the backpacks containing items that soldiers carried in the war in Vietnam. While our students are currently exploring and reflecting on the intangible weight that soldiers carried—trauma, grief, memories— this exhibit will allow students to feel the physical burden of weight that the young soldiers carried with them. As many students have expressed profound interest in the soldier’s stories, it will be interesting to see what things our students carry with them from the book by the end of the unit.