Clay County's Fallen

A new book, “Clay County’s Fallen,” chronicles the lives of Clay County veterans who were killed during WW I, WW II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. The book was self-published by Jing Williams, a professor at the University of South Dakota.

For the past several years, USD Professor Jing Williams and students in her education classes have been researching Clay County veterans who were killed during WW I, WW II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Now, the findings of their research have been published in a new book entitled, “Clay County’s Fallen.”

The book, which Williams self-published through a grant from the Chiesman Fund, chronicles the life stories of local fallen heroes. The book is divided into four sections – World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War – with 10 chapters total. The first chapter was authored by Williams, while the other nine chapters were written by students in Williams’ Secondary Education class, SEED 415: 7-12 Social Science Methods, in 2016 and 2017.

“[The students] wrote biographies for their fallen veterans and recorded their thoughts for the project in their reflection papers. … My students’ passion and dedication to this historical research project convinced me,” Williams said, “that I should preserve these fallen veterans’ stories in some format, ideally a book. … In the spring of 2017, I started contacting several publishers in South Dakota. However, due to the local feature of the book, it was not within the purview of the publishers’ agenda. But I saw the great value of the book to our local community, so I decided to self-publish it.”

With the grant from the Chiesman Fund, 200 copies of the book have been printed. Copies of the book will be given to area libraries, contributing authors, and several key individuals. The rest of the books will be divided and donated to VFW Post 3061, the American Legion Post 1, the Clay County Historical Society, and the W.H. Over Museum for them to sell or distribute as they see fit.

“To show our appreciation to the community, my students and I decided to present this book to the community as a gift,” said Williams. "The VFW Post 3061, American Legion Post 1, Clay County Historical Society, and the W. H. Over Museum may sell the books and keep the profit. If Vermillion residents want to read the book, they can check it out at the Vermillion Public Library or purchase a copy from one of these four organizations.”

This has been a collaborative research project with much help from the community, said Williams.

“I want the community to know that this research project is a true community collaboration,” she said. “We couldn’t have done it without the community. The VFW Post 3061 fully sponsored this project from its inception, providing cash awards to the top five student researchers each year and inviting the best researcher to be the guest speaker at the Vermillion Memorial Day Observance in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

“Wess Pravecek, executive director at the Clay County Historical Society, worked tirelessly with my students and guided them to find pieces of information of the subjects they were researching. The Vermillion Public Library and the archives at USD’s I.D. Weeks Library also provided plenty of resources for us to do our research,” Williams said. “Some of my students found their fallen veterans’ photos for the first time at the Clay County Veterans Affairs office, where Cindy Aden did an amazing job arranging veterans’ photos on the ‘Walls of Fame.’ Additionally, the fallen veterans’ families or relatives offered information that was nowhere else to be found. Last but not least, the generous financial support from the Chiesman Fund allowed us to print 200 copies of the book.”

Williams has stayed in touch with students from her former classes, and they are excited to have their research published.

“When I first told my students that I wanted to compile their work into a book in the spring of 2017, they were excited and encouraged me to keep working toward that goal,” said Williams. “Seeing their work published in a book is definitely exciting, but more importantly, they really wanted to help the community preserve its history. All my student authors have been updated on the progress of the book. They are thrilled to know the book finally is printed! They’ve been constantly telling me that this project is the most meaningful project they worked on in their college career.”

Of course, that was one of the goals of the project, admits Williams. Not only does the project and book preserve history for the community, it also serves as an example of what can be done both inside and outside of the classroom, and it hopefully serves as inspiration for future teachers as well.

“This book serves as an exemplar in my field of social studies education, showing other social studies teachers in the nation that this type of research is what they can do with their students and that they can teach about wars through their local fallen service members,” said Williams. “This book serves as a pilot project for my future teaching, as I plan to develop lesson plans with my future students based on the research work in this book.

“This book honors all veterans and their families in the United States. Any proceeds from selling the book will go back to the local community,” she said. “This is our way of giving back to the community, an important component of social studies education, cultivating young people’s civic competence and serving the public good.”

Williams said she is excited to see the book finished.

“I definitely feel an enduring sense of achievement [now that the book is done],” she said. “I also researched one of the Clay County’s fallen heroes, so I knew how hard it was for my students to take on this project. I’m pleasantly surprised that my students never complained about the challenges they encountered while doing the research.

“In fact, they were only afraid that their research was not good enough to make their fallen or fallen’s family members proud! … The book is a reflection of dedication and persistence,” Williams said. “It is a labor of love. We enjoyed what we did, and now, we proudly present this book to the Vermillion local community.”

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