Years ago, when I was teaching high school social studies, I came up with a lesson wherein my students brought in a special object to class and we used that as an “artifact” – we pretended we were archaeologists from the future unearthing these artifacts and trying to guess how they were used and what they meant. At the end of the period we went around the class and the students claimed their “artifact” from the artifact box and shared what their “artifact” actually meant to them.
There was one student in my class – a young man – who was very quiet and reticent – sat in the back of class and never spoke. When we came to him, he went up and collected a medal from the artifact box. Quietly – but clearly – he explained why the medal was special to him.
He told us the medal had been given to his family after his father’s death in Vietnam. His father had died before he was born. It was the only thing he had left of his father. And that’s why it was special to him.
I don’t think any of his classmates had known this about him. I remember tearing up, and seeing tears on the faces of his classmates, too.
When I think of the sacrifices our veterans have made in their lives – I always think of this young man. I don’t remember his name any more. But I remember him. And I remember the gift he gave us all that day by sharing his story – and the story of his father – with us.