GREENEVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) – In order to understand our present, history allows us to learn about our past.
A Greeneville Middle School history teacher is bringing history to his students, in the hopes they get a better understanding of heroes from the past, giving them another reason to be thankful.
“Most of these students in 8th grade don’t know what it’s like to live during wartimes, so hopefully, we can connect the history with that generation,” Jason Shelton said.
The Greeneville Middle School history teacher is working to do so by having his students write letters to World War II veterans.
Shelton said, “I’m hoping that I can tell students that there were POW’s in Europe and in Japan. I’m hoping that the veterans will explain to students that they were the people that participated and were there, and it’s going to sound different coming from someone that they can maybe see a face or a name and not from a history book.”
Upon learning they would be able to reach out to real-life heroes, Shelton’s 8th grade students were elated.
“Everyone needs to know their experience, what it was like for them during the war, and because we can’t really appreciate it unless we know what they went through,” Emma Waddell told News Channel 11.
The plan was to hopefully have 25 to 30 veterans.
“The students were excited when we had 30. Daily, they would ask for updates, ‘How many more do we have? Where are they at? We were at about 18 states with 177,” Shelton said.
Following Veterans Day, they surpassed their goal. With the help of community members, and extensive searching, Shelton’s 90+ students now had a list of 344 veterans, from 38 states, and one in England.
“We were able to reach out on social media and the Internet. Facebooks was probably where I gained most of the information. Families began to send stuff to me,” Shelton said, “Some museums. We had a museum in Texas, a museum in New Orleans. They were able to send some names as well.”
Although his students have not received any letters back, a few veterans have sent photos saying that they received the letter.
“Yesterday, they received a letter. Today, it was delivered. I was contacted from them and they sent a picture to us. His name was Stan Ellis,” Shelton said.
U.S. Marine and U.S. Navy Veteran, Harold Russell is on the list of 344.
“I love kids and I love our country,” Russell said. “Well, I thought it was nice, whether it’s World War II or any other time when you’re in the service, especially when you’re overseas or even if you’re here in the country, and you’re a long way from home, we like to hear from people.”
As a former teacher himself, the Greeneville native hopes this pen pal program will teach students to be proud of their country.
Russell said, “Maybe it help them learn how to communicate, and learn about what patriotism is and to practice it.”
“They have done so much for us that I was like, you know we get to do something for them,” 8th-grade student, Zach Wallin said. “It’s extremely important because they did so much for us, and I feel like it’s necessary that we honor them because without them, we wouldn’t have today, freedom wise. The fact that there are some alive is astonishing.”
While the students wait on a returning letter, Shelton hopes his students understand they have another reason to be thankful for this holiday season.
“Most of these veterans left home early 40s and they were gone for three or four years. Away from their families, fighting for what we have today in our country. To me, every minute that I spend is worth it, not only to put a smile on a veteran’s face, but to bring history to life with the students,” Shelton explained. “Too many times, we let stories get missed. We don’t ask those questions until it’s too late.”