For the fourth year in a row, USD students dug into the history of “Clay County’s Fallen” during their SEED 415: 7-12 Social Science Methods course this spring. This year’s first place researcher, as determined by a panel of judges from the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 3061, was USD student Brett Hughes, who will be a featured speaker at Vermillion’s Memorial Day observation in May.
Hughes received a $150 cash award from the VFW and the guest speaker honor. The veteran he wrote about was Lloyd Merlin Thompson.
Course instructor Jing Williams created this community-based research project to help the community, as well as to inspire her students about how to teach about war.
“Each student enrolled in this course researches a fallen hero from Clay County, South Dakota, and writes a biography for that fallen hero,” said Williams. “This project was designed to enlighten future secondary social studies teachers how to teach about wars from a human perspective, teach them how to do research through local archives and online resources, increase their awareness of veterans' ultimate sacrifice to this country, honor the fallen heroes, and foster a strong and positive relationship between the University of South Dakota and the local community.”
Researching local heroes is not an easy task, admits Williams.
“These were veterans who hadn’t been written about previously,” she said. “There was scarce public information about these fallen heroes. My students had to do real historical research. They worked like historians, spending hours and hours in the libraries and archives looking for pieces of information about their fallen heroes. They visited the Clay County Historical Society, where the Executive Director Wess Pravecek worked with them and guided them how to find more information on their subject. One student also found a good amount of information of his fallen veteran at the W. H. Over Museum. Most family members or relatives of the fallen had passed away or were impossible to be contacted. However, several student researchers were lucky enough to find their fallen's family members or relatives and were able to conduct personal interviews as well.”
Williams hopes the research conducted by her students will have a lasting impact on the Vermillion community. Last fall, Williams compiled previous student work into a book, “Hometown’s Fallen: Discovering the Human Aspects of Wars,” which features the stories of 10 fallen veterans. She is currently working on a second volume to contain 10 more stories. Volume II is scheduled to be published this summer.
“It is our hope that our fallen service members' stories can be remembered forever,” said Williams.