AKRON, Ohio – Inside the U.S. history class of Ellen Beldean are containers of flags inscribed with the names of more than 1,200 Ohioans who were killed in Vietnam.
The names – a fraction of the total of 3,095 Buckeyes who died in the war – are on flags that officials of the Ohio Veterans Memorial Park in Clinton were unable to give to family members on Veterans Day 2011 when the Clinton park held a fundraising motorcycle ride.
The park made the flags and hoped to get the flags to family members of all of those Buckeyes who were killed in the war, but more than a thousand flags remained with no family member to claim them.
Beldean, 43, an Akron Ellet High School graduate, is a teacher but is called a coach at Akron’s National Inventors Hall of Fame School – Center for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematical Learning middle school in downtown Akron. Last year, she took her eighth-grade students, known as learners, to see the Vietnam Veterans Memorial during a trip to Washington, D.C. While there, she noticed small memorials left at The Wall by various schools around the country.
When she returned to Akron, she contacted Ken Noon, a member of the board of trustees of the nonprofit park, and asked whether her students could help. Noon told her about the 1,200 unclaimed flags.
So this spring, while studying the Vietnam War, her students began to use their computer skills to attempt to find information for family members.
Every day, during U.S. history, Beldean’s eighth-grade students jump online and begin plugging names of Ohioans who paid the ultimate price in Vietnam into Google searches and onto the website of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund – the website for the Wall in Washington.
I know it was a war between North and South Vietnam and the U.S. got involved to help South Vietnam, but eventually we pulled out and North Vietnam conquered South Vietnam, said 14-year-old Andrew Meyer, who has found family members of seven of the dead so far during the project.
On a day this month, however, he was unable to find a family member for Marine Pfc. Charles Edward Kuhn Jr., 18, of North Canton, who was killed June 23, 1969.
Toward the end of the class, Meyer, unable to find family members, put Pfc. Kuhn’s name into the bin with about nine others where no family members were found.
It really bothers them to put the flags in there, Beldean said.
Kyle Fertig, 14, was astounded at the vast number of names.
This guy, he said, referring to Marine Cpl. Michael Edward Roberts, 20, of Springfield, Ohio, who was killed Oct. 21, 1968, I only found where he was buried. I couldn’t find anyone connected to him. Some are just like a dead end.
Beldean picked up a flag during the class period and thought she had discovered the sister of Marine Cpl. William Anthony Gorvet, 21, of Youngstown, who was killed Aug. 26, 1969.
Learner Samson Clemens, 14, said looking through all the names on the flags makes him wonder about what could have happened if they had not been killed.
I think about what it was like in the war and how would they be like if they had made it out, he said.
Noon, of the veterans park, said what the history class is doing is fantastic.
He said volunteers at the park aren’t as up to speed on computer skills as young people and so the students are providing a great service.
Beldean said the learners in her class are using 21st century skills to provide a service.
Other eighth-grade learners are researching the history of the war and others will write letters to found family members through fellow eighth-grade coaches Rachandra Decatur, Sharon Kaffen and Sherry Hankinson, she said.
The class will go to visit the Clinton park May 16 and then will see the Wall in Washington on a trip May 22 to 24.
While at the Wall, flags of those whose family members were not found will be placed by their loved ones’ names, Beldean said.
Flags for those contacts that were found will be given back to the park, and park officials will contact the families to arrange distribution of flags.
And the stack of hundreds and hundreds of flags still with no family members will be researched more by next year’s eighth-grade class, Beldean said.
On June, 1, the veterans park will sponsor the 3,095 Freedom Ride, and backers of the park hope to pass out 3,095 flags with names of area veterans and current service members emblazoned on the flags.