Thursday, October 10, 2002

Vietnam memorial


Class learns names stand for loved ones

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Two names are carved on a wall.

Ronald Weaver Jones.

James Edward Gordon.

Sadly, they have lots of company. 58,218 other names.

Each represents an American life lost in the Vietnam War.

Each graces two walls, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington and the Wall That Heals. The latter, a half-scale traveling replica of the war's memorial, stands today through Sunday in Springfield Township's Arlington Memorial Gardens.

Engraved on a slab of blackened aluminum, those names will wait at the cemetery and wonder. Will anyone stop by to remember Ronald Weaver Jones and James Edward Gordon?

They will. And among those paying their respects will be teenagers from Mount Healthy High School.

The students have gotten to know the two fallen soldiers. Early Wednesday morning, they learned a lesson in history and were able to put a human face on war.

Two names, two men

Kevin Kirkpatrick asked honors students in his first-bell 10th-grade social studies class to find a name on the wall.

But not just any name. Someone in their family had to know the soldier.

They would search for information on the wall's Web site. Then, when the class visits the Wall That Heals this week, the students could connect a person with the name.

Alexis Ryles brought in the name of James Edward Gordon. He's the great-uncle she never knew.

“My great-aunt has a picture, a big one, of him in uniform on the wall in her living room,” Alexis said.

The photo's size and location are appropriate for a fallen hero.

Private First Class James Edward Gordon “laid on a landmine,” Alexis said. He died in Vietnam on Jan. 2, 1967. He was 19.

Alexis is 15.

Lauren Baker's Uncle Luke went to Taft High School with Ronald Weaver Jones. They went off to war together, too.

Uncle Luke came back. Ronald didn't.

“That's all I know about him,” Lauren said.

The 15-year-old sophomore found out a little more at the school's computer lab.

She logged on to www.thevirtualwall.org. And typed in Ronald's name. Up popped his once-vital statistics.

Born in Cincinnati, 1943. Died in Vietnam, 1966. Rank: Private first class.

Folks in Lauren's family don't talk much about that war. No one in the class does, it seems.

“My uncle would just say he was surprised he survived,” said 15-year-old Elizabeth Edwards. “He got his leg shot off. He just recently passed away.”

Nothing's new

Talking about an old war takes on an added dimension as America edges toward a showdown with Iraq.

Some young men in the class know where they stand.

Kevin Brock, 16, said: “I'll serve my country. I'm afraid to die. But I'll go if I have to.”

Nick Addington, 15, plans to join the Peace Corps. “War with Iraq is stupid,” he said. “It's all about the price of oil and our president is an oil tycoon.”

Christina Young, 15, sees similarities between the Vietnam War and invading Iraq. Unpopular conflict. Divided nation. President from Texas.

Shaking her head, she said: “It's like history's repeating itself.”

Lauren Baker thought about how war affects the troops as well as the people at home.

“How sad,” she said looking at Ronald Weaver Jones' data on her computer screen.

“He was only 23. You regularly read about people getting shot and dying in war.

“But, just think about how his family must have felt when they found out he was dead.”

They lost a loved one. Not a number. Or a name.

Call Cliff Radel at 768-8379 or e-mail cradel@enquirer.com.



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