Georgia College students had an opportunity last spring to be a part of a project that will serve as a permanent way to honor the lives of nine Milledgeville veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

Dr. James Schiffman, associate professor in Georgia College’s Department of Communication, was teaching a self-created class titled Vietnam War in the Media for the second time last spring. It’s a course that is fashioned around the 10-part Ken Burns documentary, “The Vietnam War.” The first time he taught the class, students were assigned to interview a Vietnam veteran. The spring semester, however, presented a challenge as in-person instruction had been halted due to Covid-19 and classes were being held completely via Zoom. Schiffman contemplated what he could assign the students for a meaningful final project. 

“I was walking by that memorial area in front of the old courthouse, and I saw those nine names on the tablet from the Vietnam War,” Schiffman said.

On the tablet were the names of the nine veterans from Milledgeville who died in the Vietnam War. Immediately, Schiffman had his answer.

He divided the class into nine groups. The students were each assigned a fallen veteran and their research would be compiled into a history about the fallen from Milledgeville. The result is a digital exhibit called “Native Sons Lost: The Vietnam War Dead of Milledgeville, Georgia.”

Schiffman said students completed research in several ways. They interviewed family members by phone or internet. In some cases, they met with family members with strict protocols in place for safety. They reached out to buddies of the fallen, researched archival materials such as newspapers and chatted on message boards and in community groups. They also visited a website that provides information about each name on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in Washington, D.C.

Schiffman coordinated with faculty and staff from the Ina Dillard Russell Library throughout the project. He said Evan Leavitt, manager of Facilities, Operations and Planning, was particularly instrumental in the research, combining his own with what the students had already done. Leavitt wrote the narrative for the exhibit over the summer, and the two spent many Zoom calls together editing and completing the final work.

Leavitt and Special Collections faculty met with the class to discuss resources and research methods the students could employ to learn and understand the narrative of these soldiers. The research, he said, was not easy. 

“You really have to dig to make connections to be able to find information,” Leavitt said.

The original student research has been placed in a collection on The Knowledge Box, an institutional repository where undergraduate research can be stored and accessed from around the world.

Leavitt said the result of all this has been two-faceted; it’s helped the students to gain skills, but it’s also helped them learn about their adopted community.

“It’s very rewarding,” he said. “That’s why we’re here at Georgia College is to work with the students and assist the students in their educational pursuits.”

In addition, though, he said projects like this one “connect [the students] more fully to the community that they’re in while they’re here at Georgia College.”

The students took pride in their part in telling the stories of these fallen nine.

Being a part of this project… gives credit and support to the men who died serving for their country,” said student Brett Daise. “Regardless about how you feel about the war and the men who served, they deserve the recognition and the respect that these men deserve for making the ultimate sacrifice.”

Lauren Miller is a political science major, and she said being a part of a mass communications class put her out of her comfort zone.

“I was able to learn what it's like to work in journalism and learn about the history of others,” she said. “I was following one lead after another until I found direct relatives … As a military dependent myself, it is extremely rewarding that I was able to help their families ensure that their memory lives on forever. I am privileged to be a part of a project that has been so meaningful to the community.” 

Jonathan O'Brien said as someone who has such a great respect for those who serve this country, it means the world to him that his name will be associated with something that at its heart is meant to give recognition to a list of names that so many drive or walk past every day. 

 

“Getting to be a part of a project that put faces and stories to these names was a privilege,” he said. “And I hope it serves another purpose. I hope one day another student or community member could use what this class created to help them in their research.” 

 

Schiffman said the fact that this student project has led to something that’s essentially a permanent exhibit is unique and meaningful.

 

“I think that the students really appreciated it,” he said. “I certainly hope that they realize how kind of rare and important that is.”

On the site, family members have commented on how much the remembrance of their loved one means to them. The link itself has been spread far and wide.

Schiffman said the most important goal the project achieved was to honor those who sacrificed their lives. In doing so, students learned just what that sacrifice meant to so many.

“This was an opportunity for [students] to really actually meet real people who were really there or really involved, and I think that adds another dimension to bringing home what the war meant to people.”

“Native Sons Lost” can be viewed on Georgia College’s special collection gallery’s website, www.specialcollectionsgalleries.gcsu.edu/killed-in-action.

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