In college while taking a 1945-Present US History class, I was asked to interview someone who was around during the Vietnam War. The professor may have said Vietnam Conflict as it was technically not a war, but I digress. When presented with this project, I think I went with the easiest person I could think of which was my dad. To be honest in thinking about it now, I think I likely knew my dad had served in the Navy, but didn't know much else. Over the years he didn't talk much about his experience. We knew he traveled to Japan as he had a couple of dolls that still reside in the living room of their home. I also remember him showing me a sword he got again while in the Navy and in Japan. I think the mementoes being from Japan precluded me from ever realizing he was involved in Vietnam. He never spoke of it.
When tasked with conducting the interview, I came home from college and we sat down to talk about it. He shared with me that he enlisted. Now at that point in my life I had known my dad for about 20 years. I knew he had a gun he used for hunting, which I think he only went like two years when my older brother went hunting. So my dad wasn't someone that I thought of as this gun ho Jo. He wasn't someone I saw as eager to go to war, or have a heightened sense of duty to country or patriotism that would drive him to volunteer. I was puzzled as to why he would put himself at risk voluntarily. This seemed at odds to the man I knew, especially knowing how unpopular the Vietnam was for many at that time. When I pressed him on this he told me, he had a high draft number, and he figured he was definitely going to get drafted. Facing almost guaranteed service, he decided to enlist. He said if you enlist you get to chose the branch of service. He chose the Navy and had several years serving in Vietnam. There are many differences between his experience and someone who was in the Army. One that he was thankful for was that he had a clean bunk every night and had hot meals.
As we talked he also shared that he had guys he grew up with that didn't make it back. He shared some of the stories of the things he saw, did, and heard about from people he knew, but little in way of graphic details about what we likely think of as the reality of war.
I could go on about the other really cool things he shared with me, like being on the recovery mission for one of the Apollo flights; they weren't the ship to recover it, because it was such a powerful experience for me. Getting to see a different side of my dad, hear about his experience, especially in context of a major historical event is still one of the best memories I have of spending time with him.
There are other people's stories that I haven't heard or experienced. There are people in my life that I haven't taken the time to learn about. There are things that I missed out on or am missing out on because I haven't take the time to start the conversation. I think interviewing people is such a powerful experience. One of the classes I work with, 3rd grade bilingual students started last year with a project where they interviewed the teachers in their building to help the entire school get to know the staff better. I have been thinking about this activity, along with the potential for using this to help students experience history. Tonight's chat is about the story of history and doing the work of history.