Experiencing Civil War history firsthand

By on February 24, 2012

KHS group to visit Virg., Penn., D.C.
by Keith Beebe
KANELAND—Kaneland High School teacher Javier Martinez in March 2011 took a group of 18 students on a spring field trip to Virginia, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., with the intent to give participants a first-hand look at military history while also giving back to the community through service work.

The success of the entire project convinced Martinez to take another group of students on a field trip to the same region next month.

“I truly want to help my students appreciate the sacrifices made by common citizens to our nation’s history,” Martinez said. “I see too much of ‘What’s in it for me?’ as opposed to ‘What can I do to make an impact?’ I can lecture about it in class until I am blue in the face, but by giving (students) a chance to see it, feel it (and) taste it, I think there is a bigger chance that they will learn and appreciate the past and work towards making a mark on the future.”

Martinez, who works in the Social Studies Department at Kaneland and has taught classes such as World History, Foundations of Democracy (Colonial American History), Armed Conflict (Military History/International Relations) and U.S. History (1850-present), said the idea for the field trip started as an in-depth tour of Washington, D.C.—something beyond what was possible on the three-day trip typically offered to eighth grade students.

“We thought that those high school kids with an interest in history would be willing to go since they were a bit more mature than they were in eighth grade,” Martinez said. “Plus, some kids didn’t have the opportunity to go (to Washington, D.C.) in eighth grade.”

Students Liam Mulloy and Brendan Morgan straightened headstones of Civil War dead at Fredericksburg National Military Cemetery on last year's trip. Courtesy Photo

Martinez was initially unable to put the field trip together due to lack of interest, but revisited the idea after the School Board approved the Armed Conflict course.

“I had made some inquiries with the National Parks (Service) about doing volunteer work, and the chance to work at a Civil War battlefield seemed like a natural fit,” Martinez said. “I really believe it is important for my students to appreciate the people and events that have shaped the nation and the debt owed to those people by future generations. What better way to learn about this than to visit some of the sites where it all happened?”

Martinez said the trip this year was open to anyone enrolled in the Armed Conflict class. With a few stops still available, the trip was made available to any student.

The group of 13 students and three adults (including Martinez) will depart by air on Sunday, March 25, and stay near Harpers Valley, W.V.

“In order to minimize costs, we will be staying at a youth hostel, where sleeping accommodations are “bunk house” style, and the students will make their own meals in the kitchen,” Martinez said.

Students who attended the March 2011 field trip worked at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Battlefields with NPS rangers and maintenance staff. This year, the group will work with NPS rangers at Antietam Civil War Battlefield in Maryland. This September will mark the 150th anniversary of the battle, so students will help “prepare the park for commemoration ceremonies,” Martinez said.

The trip will also include a full day with a private tour guide at Gettysburg Battlefield in Pennsylvania, as well as stops at the Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington County, Va., the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C, and the National Museum of the Marine Corps, FBI Training Facility and Marine Corps Base in Quantico, Va.

The group will return on Saturday, March 31.

The trip will cost each student in the ballpark of $940. To help offset some of the field trip’s cost (equally per student), a fundraiser screening of the film “For the Common Good,” a story about actor Gary Sinise and his musical group, Lt. Dan Band, will be held on Friday, March 2, at 7 p.m. in the Kaneland High School auditorium. Admission to the movie screening is free, and donations will be accepted.

The film documents the Lt. Dan Band’s performances for troops in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. Martinez said he hopes the film will appeal to a large audience.

“Gary has been a tireless supporter of the U.S. military ever since Sept. 11. His band, named after the character Lt. Dan (in) ‘Forrest Gump,’ works directly with the USO (United Service Organizations) to raise money and play for the troops. He has been called the Bob Hope of this generation. The movie seemed like a natural fit for the message this trip is trying to convey. I want my students to recognize the value in acting for the common good and not just for themselves.”

The fundraiser last year was a screening of the award-winning documentary “Chosin,” named for the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea and featuring Korean War footage and interviews regarding the battle between the 1st Marine Division and Chinese troops at the reservoir in November and December 1950.

“I was surprised as to how many people had never heard of (the battle)—it’s one of the most famous battles in Marine Corps history,” Martinez said. “We had a strong showing from the veterans and history buffs in the local community (during the screening) and raised a little over $1,000.”