Have you ever wondered what those after us will think about our generation? Will they care what we did in our lifetime? We can learn so much from the generations before us, and Goreville FFA members know that firsthand after listening to veterans tell their story.
Every great movement starts off as a small idea. The Goreville FFA Chapter from Illinois started hosting a Veteran’s Day Assemble five years ago to show their appreciation towards the veterans in their community. After each assembly, Goreville FFA advisor Jeff Robison and his members had a feeling that they were missing something, almost like the vets were trying to tell a story.
Taking a hold of that premonition, the FFA chapter started a new mission — write down the veterans’ story and compile them together in a book. One of the FFA members said, “We are amongst war heroes every day and no one knows it. We need to tell their story.”
In a very patriotic community, love for country and those who served was not hard to find. What was tough to find was taking the next step in writing the book — such as getting funding. With the help of their local bank, Southern Trust Bank, which fully funded the publishing cost, the Goreville FFA Chapter received the green light to start writing down the history of veterans in its community.
The students were able to learn more than just the history of the war, this project had a very personal connection. During this project they got to hear real stories from their neighbors, some of who never got the chance to tell their story. This created a new bond between the students and the veterans.
For example, the students and veterans were able to bond over their love for FFA. One gentleman even credited his life to FFA. He was an 82nd Airborne Division in Vietnam and got stuck in the jungle. He utilized the public speaking skills he learned in FFA to get to a supply yard and get to safety. Many veterans brought their war memorabilia and FFA jacket into the interviews with the students.
Every veteran was interviewed by at least two students or the advisor. The students were able to interview veterans and family members from World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War.
In Robison’s favorite interview, the children of the veteran joined in on the conversation. The students interviewed the veteran who had never talked to his own children about his efforts in the war. It was the first time he had opened up to his own kids because it was just that tough to talk about — the children had never known this side of their dad. The interview even brought some closure within the family.
One major understanding after all the interviews was the fact of a missing piece from Vietnam veterans’ stories — their welcome home party. The students could see that missing piece in each and every veteran’s story — no parade, no celebration of the soldiers and their sacrifice. This was still an open wound that had not been tended to.
In order to help the veterans, the Goreville FFA members and advisor threw a welcome-home ceremony to honor Vietnam veterans. With over 1,500 community members, the veterans finally got the party they never expected, just a few decades later. The FFA members honored the veterans with the help of the local honor guard. After they presented the colors, 14 students held flags and created a canopy for the soldiers to walk under. One by one, they were called by name and students highlighted each individual while they walked in. Every veteran received a standing ovation from their community.
The end result of all of this, “Living to Serve,” is the story of 26 U.S. veterans who gave up so much for our freedom. With the help of the FFA students, the veterans were able to tell their story to someone who was appreciative and interested. However, the veterans were not the only ones who benefited from this project. The Goreville FFA members were able to learn about their past, connect with community members, and have a true understanding of what happened so many years ago.
The students hard work paid off when 200 copies of “Living to Serve” arrived. After being handed out the veterans, family members, the local library and to the bank, copies were also sold to the community. In addition, their hard work also paid off when the chapter received the Premier Chapter — Building Communities National FFA award.
Robison said, “I was really happy that the students showed the respect and appreciated everything the veterans had been through. The work ethic, professionalism, and appreciation the students showed towards the veterans and the community really made me proud.”