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Feature: How Georgia students learn from heroes


The videos all open with one man in the frame. The details are different – faces, ages. But each man wears the same medal clipped around his neck, blue fabric and gold metal, an Eagle perched atop a sharp-pointed star – the Medal of Honor.

As the clips continue, each man tells his story: How he came to the service, where he served, who was with him. They talk about the hard times, about men on battlefields calling for their mothers, about decisions that happened in a split second and knowing something had to be done.

They explain how they came to win the Medal of Honor, the United States’ highest honor awarded for valor in combat. From all of them, the same sentiment tends to arise:

“My name is on the back of it,” one says. “But I’m just a caretaker.”

“The medal’s not mine,” another explains. “It belongs to those kids who never grew up to be grandfathers.”

The videos are part of the Medal of Honor Character Development Program, through which students in participating Georgia schools learn from the oral histories of Medal of Honor recipients.

The living-history curriculum zeroes in on six core values: courage, commitment, sacrifice, integrity, citizenship and patriotism. The goal is not to glorify or glamorize war, organizers say, but to inspire students to learn from the recipients’ examples of valor and influence change in their own communities.

Before it comes to students, middle- and high-school teachers and administrators learn the Medal of Honor curriculum at voluntary trainings sponsored, all over the state, by the Georgia Department of Education. Attendees receive the full curriculum kit at no cost, participate in model lessons, and learn best practices for their classrooms. (Substitute teacher costs are reimbursed to the applicable district or school.)

During a recent training hosted by the Metro Regional Education Service Agency (RESA), educators learned how to implement the program – discussing everything from the history of the Medal of Honor to stories of their military service (or the service of parents, grandparents, spouses, and friends).

They modeled lessons they would later bring back to their students – listening, for instance, to recipients’ stories and breaking out in charts the examples of courage and sacrifice they displayed, and the meaning of those words in everyday life.

Most of the recipients’ stories crackled through a DVD projector, but one was there in living color. First Lieutenant Brian Thacker, a Vietnam veteran who received the Medal of Honor in 1973, attended to share his story with the group. He was honored, as he entered the building, by a flag line from the Georgia Patriot Guard.

He then talked with a packed room about his time overseas, about the times since that he’s shared his story with students, and about the phone call that came, after he was home, and his first thought after hanging up.

I lost three men over there, he remembers thinking. When are we going to talk about them?

It’s stories like Thacker’s – of selflessness, of courage, of sacrifice writ large – that are the heart of the Medal of Honor program. It begins with Georgia teachers, in trainings like this, and flows out from there to students all over the state. 

Learn more about the Medal of Honor program, and teacher-training workshops, here.