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. In 2018, the book, “Hometown’s Fallen: Discovering the Human Aspects of War,” was published, chronicling the stories of local fallen heroes the students had researched. Now, Volume II of the project is on bookshelves.
Volume II, which Williams self-published through a grant from the USD Chiesman Fund (just like she did for Volume I), chronicles the life stories of nine more local fallen heroes that Williams’ recent students researched. Four of the authors from Volume I (students in Williams’ Secondary Education class, SEED 415: 7-12 Social Studies Methods, in 2016 and 2017) also wrote short paragraphs to include in Volume II, documenting how the project impacted them as future teachers.
“This book originated from a class project, which required students in my social studies methods class to do historical research on some of the fallen veterans from Clay County, South Dakota,” said Williams. “I provided the local and online resources to the students, and students had to pick a name from the Clay County Casualty List to research. The list was provided by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3061. My students did real historical research.
“Since these people died before the digital age, there was not much public information available online. My students learned how to use databases and visited the USD Archives, Clay County Historical Society, Vermillion Public Library, W. H. Over Museum, and the Clay County Veterans Affairs Office, to find pieces of information about their chosen subject. Some of them were lucky, because their research work led them to their fallen veteran’s family members or relatives, with whom they conducted personal interviews,” she said. “In the end, students had to use the information they found to write a biography about that fallen veteran and a reflection paper which recorded their research process and what they learned from this project.”
Williams decided to publish her students’ work so future generations could read about local fallen heroes.
“My students and I believe that these fallen heroes should never be forgotten,” she said.
With the grant from the Chiesman Fund, two hundred copies of the Volume II have been printed. Copies of the book have been given to area libraries, contributing authors, and several key individuals. The rest of the books were 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.
“My students and I will not financially benefit from selling the books in any fashion,” said Williams. “Any proceeds will go to the local community. This is our way of giving back to the community. … If anybody is interested in purchasing a copy, they can contact any of those four organizations. Additionally, several copies were donated to the School of Education, Vermillion Public Library, and I. D. Weeks Library.”
This project – researching local veterans and fallen heroes – has been an important component in Williams’ education classes since 2016. It has multi-faceted benefits, not only for her students, but also for the community, she said.
“For my students, who are future middle/high school social studies teachers, they learned how to do historical research, which can be used in their future teaching,” said Williams. “For the local community and Clay County, this project helps discover the stories of the local fallen service members and preserve an important part of the local and national history. For my teaching, I guide my students to do something for the public good, which is an integral part of civic learning. It also demonstrates to the social studies teachers in the nation that they could also incorporate a similar research project in their classrooms.”
Williams will continue to guide her students in community-based research in the future, but the project will change slightly, she admits.
“Over the years, my students and I have researched most of the names on the casualty list,” she said. “There are 3 to 4 names that have not been researched by my previous students, and that is not enough for me to do another round of research with my new students. However, I may design a research project for interested students to work on during the summer and we can work together to uncover the stories of the rest of the fallen veterans on the list.”
Meanwhile, this academic year, Williams’ students will be working on a research project that is related.
“In the spring of 2020, based on my previous students’ research findings, I will instruct my new students to build lesson plans, demonstrating how middle/high school social studies teachers can teach about distant wars from the local perspective,” she said.
Williams is grateful to the USD Chiesman Fund, as well as to her students for their help in bringing this project to life.
“My students and I are grateful for the USD Chiesman Fund, which has been our generous sponsor of this book project, both Volume I and Volume II,” she said. “And I am very appreciative for my students. They are simply amazing. This research project was probably the most time-and-effort consuming assignment they had ever done in college. However, I have never heard any of them complain about it. On the contrary, they told me how much they loved this project and how much it meant to them as a researcher and future teacher.
“Many of them already graduated. When they email me or come back to visit me in my office, they still can’t stop talking about this project and how much it has impacted their teaching,” Williams said. “I am also very thankful for my chair Dr. Karen Kindle and my dean Dr. Amy Schweinle, who have been supportive of this research project from the beginning.”