We had a rather impromptu field trip today to view The Wall That Heals. This week the traveling version of the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial is in the town that I teach. I was planning on exploring Memorial Day with my students anyways. And absolutely leaped at the opportunity to bring the true meaning of Memorial Day to my students.
I honestly did not know what to expect when we got to the wall, but had a feeling it would be an excellent learning experience. Our visit exceeded that! A trailer was set up with basic information about the Vietnam War, short biographies about those killed and action, and examples of war correspondence. The children were in awe of how young the soldiers were, something that they couldn't grasp from the books and conversations we had. Upon realizing this, their understanding of the importance of this wall changed.
Shortly after we moved up to view the artifacts. Two Vietnam Veterans were stationed with the artifacts. These gentlemen were incredibly gracious with their time! They shared their experiences with us, in an age-appropriate way. They answered every question our students had, and would have continued answering them all day if we hadn't needed to return to school. They demonstrated how some of the equipment was worn and used, captivating all of the students. You could hear the relief from one of my students when he said, "Finally, something normal that we use everyday!" when he was told that the "brown thing" was a towel. But he learned how important a towel was when someone is at war in a humid climate.
Finally, we made our way up to the wall. The children were eager to see it. Before seeing it they were wondering just how similar it was to the one in Washington D.C. One of the Veterans who was speaking to us by the artifacts traveled with us to the wall. Patiently waiting in the middle while the children explored the replica. He came up to share the history of the wall. The children were captivated! And the Veteran explained the importance of the wall in a way that third and fourth graders could understand, making it clearly relative to their own lives. We easily could have spent the entire morning there!
If The Wall That Heals comes to your neighborhood, I highly recommend you go. It is a perfect way for all of our students to honor the men and women who serve our country. However, with Memorial Day coming up there are a variety of other resources to use with students. A couple of books that I enjoy reading are The Wall by Eve Bunting and Postcards from a War. Another great resource is Virtual Wall, a website designed to help users search those honored on the wall as well as share short biographies about those killed in action. BrainPOP! has a video about the Vietnam War along with activities. There are other resources on Ben's Guide, National Geographic Kids, DPL KidsBlog, and National Parks. I am lucky to have a gentleman who served in the Korean War who works in my classroom as well as having two relatives that served. But if you are not as fortunate, Skype or invite a Veteran in to your classroom.