For past generations, the questions were, “Where were you when President Kennedy was shot?” or “Where were you when the space shuttle Challenger exploded?”
For this generation, the moment frozen in time is where they were when the twin towers were hit.
“It’s something that defines our generation,” said Abbey Hammeke, Great Bend High School senior who was just a third grader in 2001.
Her classmate, Alby Harris, agrees and can’t help point out the irony that Osama bin Laden was killed just as Crystal Cross’s senior English classes are finishing up their unit on the Iraq and Afghan Wars.
And just like 10 years ago, they were exchanging stories about where they were when they heard the news that made the event come full circle.
“My brother texted me,” Hammeke said about bin Laden’s death.
“I was watching ‘The Apprentice,’” Harris said. “I thought, no way! We ended the unit with Osama bin Laden’s death. How ironic.”
The girls are among the 95 high school students who participated in the study of the wars that – while they may have defined their generation – very few knew anything about. The unit culminated in a memorial wall poster that spans 36 feet in the high schools entryway.
“(This unit) has been a real eye opener,” Harris said.
That’s just the impact Cross hoped it would have.
“The war in Iraq and Afghanistan is out of sight, out of mind,” Cross said. “We want(ed) to bring it to the forefront again in Great Bend.”
She explained that all of her senior students have been reading “Ghosts of War,” a novel written by an 18-year-old who served in Iraq in 2003-2004. They also read ‘The Good Soldiers,’ a book that covers a group from Fort Riley that served in Iraq in 2007, and watched documentaries including “Alive Day,” “War Torn,” “The Pat Tillman Story” and “Taking Chances.”
“Some were hard to watch,” Harris said, especially when she applies the outcome to her own life. “These people could be my friends.”
Cross said all of her students are participating in three projects: One to honor the dead, one to honor those serving and one to honor those who have returned with issues such as physical injuries or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
To honor the dead, the students created a memorial wall that is now hanging in the entry hallway at the high school. The extraordinary 36-foot-long poster contains names, branch of military hometowns and ages, years and other pertinent information. A large banner thanks the soldiers for their sacrifice.
The wall has an impact similar to the Vietnam Memorial for those viewing it.
“It’s pretty impressive,” Cross said. “The students put in a great deal of work.”
“Everyone typed a line of names,” Hammeke explained. The names were then cut out and affixed to the poster.
“You can see a list of 5,000 names and think that’s a lot. But when you see the names on the wall, you realize it,” Harris said. “They can’t buy alcohol, but they can die for our country.”
The list was current May 1 when 4,453 war heroes from Iraq and 1,549 from Afghanistan were listed.
“We have 14 more to add from yesterday,” Harris said. “This has made a huge impact on me.”
“I’d like to see this continued on,” Hammeke said.
“The objective of all this is to make the students aware of the sacrifices that our soldiers are making for all of us,” Cross said, “whether they believe in the war or not.”