NEW MADRID -- A memorable high school writing project is preserving the stories of local soldiers for posterity in the form of a book.
"New Madrid's Hometown Heroes" was written by the 14 students in H. Riley Bock's 2008 English III class at New Madrid County Central High School.
"I started doing this type of project about six years ago when I started teaching," Bock said. "This is the fifth book but the first one we had a publisher for -- the others were published in house."
The cost of publishing the book was underwritten by the Bank of New Madrid after the idea was presented by Richard Swink, a marketing consultant for community banks.
"The very first one was developed by a teacher named Jim Lind in Hendersonville, Tenn.," Swink said. "He is an honors history teacher and did this as a class project."
Swink described it as "a labor of love." He, along with two others, have acted as liaisons between the publisher and teachers in about 10 communities over the last year or so.
"It's an important project," Swink said. "I think it's important that we capture the stories of these soldiers and the way in which we capture them is extremely important as well."
"The interaction between the students and the veterans is a very important part of the book," he explained. "Instead of just reading history, they get to actually write history."
Chris Denning, 17, said Bock asked them to write about their subject's childhood, experiences during their time in the armed forces, and their life after leaving the service.
"I wrote about a Mr. Buddy Basham. He was one of the people at the American Legion where my mom works. I believe he is, if not the oldest, one of the oldest members there. He served in World War II. He was on the U.S.S. Alabama. He worked seven decks down; he was kind of like an engineer," Denning said. "I thought it was really cool -- I got to get to know someone who served for our country and also someone who served a very long time ago."
"It was really kind of shocking because I really didn't know they went through that kind of stuff," said Hunter Borton, 17, who wrote about Charles C. "Tip" Clark, a B-17 crew member who bailed out and ended up spending four years in German prisoner of war camps during World War II. "After I got done talking to Tip, it opened my eyes. ... It changed the picture I previously had in my head."
Denning said the experience gave him a whole new perspective on World War II as well.
"It gave me a different side of it -- a more personal, human side instead of just learning about what weapons did what, what armies did what," he said.
"It had a pretty big impact because I just didn't know what they went through and I realized the significance of having Veterans Day and why we honor them as much as we do. It really stunned me, how much they went through over there," Borton said. "I know now why they stand up and salute when we sing certain songs and why they act the way they do."
Other students in Bock's class interviewed and wrote about veterans who served during the Korean War and the Vietnam War on up to those who have served in the last decade.
"I think the students enjoyed it, got a lot out of it," Bock said. "It was a fun project for me. I got to read about a lot of different people from the county -- some I knew, some I didn't know."