Thursday, June 09, 2011

Living history - not just studying it

"But when the test came, when freedom had to be fought for or abandoned, they fought. They were soldiers of democracy. They were the men of D-Day, and to them we owe our freedom.” ~ Stephen Ambrose

Rogers High School student Corey Fink is going to get the opportunity of a lifetime - a chance to actually live history. He and his American History teacher, Joe Boyle, are one of 15 student-teacher teams selected in a nation-wide competition to participate in The Albert H. Small Student/Teacher Institute sponsored by National History Day.

This year's theme, Normandy: Sacrifice for Freedom, is of special interest to Boyle whose uncle is buried in Normandy.

Together, the two have spent the last several months reading and researching the battle in preparation of their additional studies at the Institute before travelling to Normandy to experience the sights and sounds of the area first-hand.

As part of the requirements, Corey had to research a veteran of the battle from his home state. He chose Captain John A. Kulp of Franklin County who was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross while serving with the 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division for action against the enemy on June 21-22, 1944.

From the citation:

"When Captain Kulp's company was pinned down near Cherbourg by heavy fire from strong underground positions, he made a person reconnaissance in the face of the enemy fire to determine the best way to assault the position. Returning to his company, he organized his men for the advance and led them toward their objective. With complete disregard for the intense enemy fire, he moved from one platoon to another, directing and encouraging the men in their advance. At the head of his unit as they neared the enemy fortifications, he led a bayonet charge with overwhelmed the enemy garrison and forced the surrender of 144 Germans."

Corey will also lay a wreath at the U.S. Cemetery in Normandy as part of the schedule while in France.

Corey was selected, from all of Boyle's students, to apply for the program. After speaking with him, I understand why Boyle chose him. He describes himself as 'a history geek,' and exhibits a maturity in perspective that belies his 15 years. He is at the top of his class, having just completed his sophomore year, is active in multiple clubs and is a member of the track team. He's proud of his service hours, working primarily in youth programs, and doesn't seem bothered by the fact that he and his little sister celebrate their birthdays together because of the closeness of the days.

Boyle, who because of his uncle's service has long had an interest in the taking of Normandy, was a journalist before entering the teaching field and has been the American History and government instructor at Rogers for seven years. He was the BCSN Teacher of the Year for the 2010-11 school year.

This is certainly a unique opportunity to 'live history,' as Boyle described, rather than just study it in the classroom. Unfortunately, this isn't a completely happy ending. In March, thinking he was having a bad reaction to some antibiotics, Boyle went to the emergency room and a test revealed he had a cancerous tumor on his kidney. After surgery at the Cleveland Clinic in April, he developed a blood clot in his leg. While thinking he would be recovered enough to meet the physical demands of touring the Normandy battle sights, the blood clot ended those hopes and he will not be making the trip with Corey.

Arrangements were made so Corey could still attend the Institute and the trip to Normandy and the organizers hope that it will be possible to include Boyle next year.

This is not just a tremendous experience for the student-teacher team, it is a testament to the two individuals: a teacher with a love of the subject and a passion for making history more than just a topic to be studied in the dry atmosphere of a classroom; and a student with the intellect, curiosity and diligence to meet the difficult requirements of the program.

They are a compliment to their families and their school and I congratulate them both!

My exclusive interview and their story:

The final obligation Corey has in the program is to create a website after he returns from France. I will link to that page when he has it completed. He also said he would, if time permits during his two weeks at the Institute, send an email and some photos that I can share with you.

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