Go Home

From left, Seth, Katie and Hannah hold Flat Stanley to represent all 1,000 students at Creekwood Middle School in Houston, Texas while visiting Mr. Frank Buckles at his West Virginia farm on March 7, 2009.

School sparks WWI Memorial restoration effort

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va., March 7, 2009 - On Nov. 11, 1918, the U.S. had 4,734,991 surviving World War I veterans. Today there is 1 - Mr. Frank Buckles. The nation will now honor their service with a fitting memorial. Just ask teachers and students from Houston's Creekwood Middle School about it.

PROVING the adage that one person can make a difference, Jan York, Creekwood science teacher, was watching an early morning news show last year when she saw David DeJonge interviewed about his work photographing WWI veterans, including Frank Buckles, 108, now America's sole surviving WWI veteran.

Combining his professional expertise with a camera and his patriotic passion to document surviving WWI veterans, David explained that he has crisscrossed the country over the past few years in a race against time. As Jan watched the television interview, she began connecting dots that ultimately led her, her school and her District on an educational journey of a lifetime.

On Saturday, 11 teachers from Creekwood, 3 students, the principal and a few parents made the trip to Frank Buckles' farm in West Virginia to present him with a check for $13,553.83 to begin restoring the D.C. Memorial to WWI veterans on the National Mall. With slogans such as "Bucks for Buckles" and "Dough for the Doughboys," each grade sold T-shirts, backpack tags, and donated to a coin jar on each teacher's desk to raise "money for the monument."

The D.C. Memorial was completed in 1931 to honor WWI veterans from Washington D.C. Even then, students from area schools raised funds to build it so that legacy continues with the 2009 effort. Over the years with few people realizing it was a WWI memorial or that it was even on the National Mall, it fell into disrepair.

Last year when Frank Buckles was in Washington D.C. to view David DeJonge's exhibit at the Pentagon, he visited the memorial and lamented at its condition. David agreed. He co-founded the WWI Memorial Foundation with a mission to not only restore the memorial but also re-dedicate it as the District of Columbia and National World War I Memorial. On January 13, 2009, Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, introduced H.R. 482, the Frank Buckles World War I Memorial Act. Mr. Buckles is the honorary chairperson of the WWI Memorial Foundation.

Before Jan saw David's interview and proposed the project to her school, Rep. Poe was already working with David to craft legislation after he saw a presentation of the exhibit and wanted to get involved. The fact that he represented Houston and Creekwood School, a school within the Humble Independent School District, was another dot along the journey. "It's truly miraculous how things have connected with this project," Gina Horn, Creekwood 8th grade U.S. History teacher, said on Saturday during an interview with Student News Net.

With funding from the Texas Learn and Serve Grant, guidance from the Humble Service Learning Advisory Board, and enthusiastic support from Walt Winicki, Creekwood's principal, Creekwood was the first school in the nation to host David DeJonge's exhibit over a three-day period in February.

Barb Campbell, service learning coordinator for Kingwood High School in the District, explained that as Creekwood's 2008-2009 service learning project, material on WWI was integrated across the curriculum. Students studied the stages of war, the 1918 influenza pandemic, poetry of the era including love letters to and from soldiers, and the genealogy of their families to learn if they had any relatives who fought in the war. High school students studied the use of chemical warfare during the war.

Hannah, one of the three Creekwood students who made the trip to West Virginia, found out that she had two relatives who fought and died in the war. With a keen interest in history and the realization that in just one school year so much progress has been made to reach their goal, Hannah said the experience has had a profound effect on her. "My generation can grow up and change this country," she said.

As Jan sat next to Frank Buckles on his porch to introduce the Creekwood team to him and present him with the check, she fought back tears trying to explain the impact this project has had on them. "We've fallen in love with you," she said. "We're going to work hard to get the memorial the way it should be."

Creekwood parents are also ready to help. Camille Morrison was there with her daughter who volunteered as a docent during the three-day exhibit. "The positive impact these kids have on other kids is awesome," Camille said. Prepared by Sammie Skinner, Creekwood's 7th grade Texas history teacher, 19 students served as docents both at school and then on Saturday, Feb. 7 when the exhibit was presented to the community at the Humble Civic Center. "They had so much poise. I was so proud of those kids," Skinner said. Over 1,000 people from the community came to see what their children had been talking about all year. The momentum is unstoppable.

The Humble School District Board now wants the project to expand next year to include all 35 schools in the District. "The power of this project is what the students do," Walt Winicki said. "We can't let it go. We're going to continue it next year."

It looks like the line of dots will be getting much longer!