From Rhetoric to Reality – American History Education

Lois Bolin, Old Naples Historian

Lois Bolin, Old Naples Historian

We all have shared concurrent experiences with someone whose perception is different than ours. When these differences are vast, it causes us to examine our thinking to understand how they can be so wrong – I mean – so far apart from our reality.

When new information shifts our perspective, so begins the bitter sweet journey into the existential abyss, where lay philosophers seek their meaning of this new reality, reluctantly accepting responsibility because deep in our being we don’t want to change because it doesn’t make us feel secure.

Existentialism began in the 19th century, but it was post WWII ’s sense of disorientation and confusion that gave rise to this new philosophy, which dealt with the living-feeling human individual and not just the thinking subject.

Baby Boomers, unlike their Greatest Generation parents, who endured the Great Depression and defeated the greatest tyranny the world has ever know, had the luxury of
time to explore the gift their parent’s had preserved for them – freedom of thought – the foundation for other liberties, including freedom of religion, speech and  expression.

Palmetto Ridge High School JROTC Color Guard with Maj. Gen. Bernard

Palmetto Ridge High School JROTC Color Guard with Maj. Gen. Bernard

Ironically, these same liberties allowed individuals such as Bill Ayers, student terrorist turned fugitive turned ‘educator’, time to espouse incorrect facts as truth. America did win the Vietnam War with the 1973 Paris Peace Accord, but the 94th Congress in 1974 broke the promise the United States made, resulting in some 2 million  Vietnamese dying in ‘reeducation camps’ or trying to escape to freedom.

Children of Boomers, Millennials, are often called the ‘Self-Absorbed’ generation, yet in a recent article by a Millennial, who no doubt has just emerged from the exisentiatia abyss, distressed over the elderly in her church, started me thinking differently. Like the elderly in Japan, she concluded these parishioners had no family to care for them
so it was up to her generation to take care of those who had given so much to make their future better.

My perception of those self-absorbed Millennial shifted – just as it shifted on the Vietnam War – just as it shifted on the Naples Pier in August 2010 at the first Naples Spirit of 45 Taps Across America. As WWII veterans walked onto the Naples Pier, they looked at a tattooed, picered ‘Dude’ with distrust. Their look was reciprocated in kind.

After walking over to share why the ‘grey brigade’ had invaded their Sunday afternoon gulf turf, the ‘Dude’ said that his grandfather had been in WWII . He joined our tribute, which shifted many perceptions when this ‘Dude’ cried over the loss of his Paw Paw.

My new reality after that evening was it’s not that kids don’t care about the Vietnam War or the sacrifices of our Greatest Generation; it’s that they don’t know – they were never taught – not unless they had a Paw Paw – not unless they had educators who dealt in primary and secondary research rather than hyperbolic rhetoric espoused so often it becomes consensus reality.

For the past ten years, the Holocaust Museum & Education Center of Southwest Florida, has hosted seminars for local educators so Holocaust history would not be forgotten or rewritten. We can thank Ann Jacobson for her unyielding passion to make this happen.

On August 6-8, at their 11th annual forum, “Legacy & Leadership in History”, their new collaborators, Naples Spirit of ’45, supported their mission to see that the Holocaust and WWII history are not forgotten. Jim Percoco, lead educator of the Friends of the WWII Memorial Foundation, brought teaching materials while K. C. Smith, curator of the Florida Museum of History and coordinator of the Florida History Fair, brought Florida’s WWII Heritage Trail Guidebooks and information on primary and secondary resources available for their use.

We can thank Amy Snyder for her willingness to make this happen. Both Mr. Percoco and Ms. Smith were special guests at the 5th Annual Greatest Generation Breakfast at the Hilton Naples on August 9th, where US M, “Pappy” Wagner, communication linesman on Iwo Jima and USN , Vic Bucket, survivor of the USS Indianapolis, shared
their stories after Korean PO W, Rev. Fred Schultz, gave the opening prayer. The breakfast benefited the Peter Thomas History Fund, housed at the Holocaust Museum and the Spirit of 45 Award at the Florida History Fair.

Some 300 people shared a concurrent experience at the breakfast and no doubt left knowing, if only for a short while, what we owe to this generation and those who followed in their footsteps. Teaching American history is how we repay this debt.

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