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Meeting True Heroes Face to Face

By Jessica Hulcy
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #54, 2003.

How to meet real-world heroes on your homeschool field trips.
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Jessica Hulcy

KONOS kids with Peter Marshall at Plymouth Plantations

Heroes are important. Young people need heroes, especially today. They need to come face to face and rub elbow to elbow with men and women whose life choices make a difference to the world. Every year as I plan my KONOS co-op, I pray, "Lord, what great people of character, what great people of contribution, what great people of consequence, what great people of conscience can I introduce my students to this year?" Then I sit back and wait... well, wait and think... wait and think. The Lord is so very faithful to provide incredible flesh and blood models whose lives burst with character and contribution. Student's eyes sparkle when they meet men and women worthy of the title "hero." Kids have a knack for sensing greatness.

My American history class provided the perfect backdrop for meeting living giants last year.

Peter Marshall signs The Light and the Glory for Jessica, Jason, and Jared
Dinner and Book Signing with Peter Marshall

America's discovery and founding are a result of our sovereign God using men to accomplish His will. This is the underlying concept I wanted my children to grasp... that America was no accident. It was founded unlike any other nation in history on Christian principles, by Christian men. In their book, The Light and the Glory, Peter Marshall and David Manuel reveal God's destiny for America. Along with Never Before in History, I use these two texts to trace America's Christian beginnings.

When I took my classes on their east coast tour, we naturally began in Boston at Plymouth Plantation. What a perfect opportunity to meet the co-author of The Light and the Glory, Peter Marshall. Reverend Marshall is an excellent speaker and a captivating storyteller, so I invited him to join us for a Thanksgiving feast at Plymouth and sign the students' "textbooks." Reverend Marshall's own mother, Catherine Marshall, had authored Christy, the story of her own mother as well as A Man Called Peter, the story of her husband and Reverend Marshall's father, the former Chaplin of the US Senate. How special to dine and converse with a renowned author whose personal legacy is so rich.

Jessica presents gifts to NYC firemen
Meet NYC Firemen: Heroes of 9/11

The next stop on our trip was New York City. After 9/11, the word hero coupled with New York automatically spells fireman. I wanted my students to meet the men who had responded to 9/11, so I contacted homeschooling friends in New York who arranged our visit to Ladder One. Everything about our visit was dramatic. As we were pulling into the fire station, one of the fire trucks was roaring out to answer a call. When the firemen returned from their run, even junior high and high school students donned firemen hats and axes. I presented the firemen with a small token and told them, "As a mother of four boys, I have visited the fire station numerous times and watched my sons try on 'real firemen boots and hats.'

KONOS kids visit NYC firemen
I think young boys spend the rest of their lives trying to fill those hats and boots as they grow into manhood... quite a tall order, indeed. 'Thank you' is such a small phrase to utter for the courage and willingness to place yourselves in harm's way for those you do not even know. However, we do thank you, not only for your actions, but also for your example of courage and character."

There was so much admiration in the hearts of the students for these men, that it was hard to speak it.

Mike Jacobs, Holocaust survivor, in front of Memorial Wall
Moved by Mike Jacobs: Holocaust Survivor

That same silent admiration spread across our group when we visited the Dallas Holocaust Memorial Museum. Mike Jacobs, a survivor of the Holocaust, retold the pain of his grievous concentration camp experience as he rolled up his sleeves and exposing the number tattooed on his forearm. Tears filled the girls eyes as he recounted the brutal murder of his entire family at Treblinka, of the complete Nazi disregard for life as they burned children alive and made lampshades of human skin. My children shivered at such unthinkable cruelty. Their eyes filled with sadness. I have heard Mike's incredible stories before, but they never seem to lose their horror and sadness as they come from Mike's lips.

Alyssa, Laura, and Jessica walk through the boxcar at the Holocaust Museum
Crowding into the boxcar, staring at the graphic photos on the wall, and running our fingers over the engraved names of survivors on the memorial wall caused one to wonder, "How could anyone survive such heinous circumstance?" And then you look at Mike in disbelief, and it strikes you that right before you stands a man who has lived through and been a witness to all the terror in the photographs on the walls! They are not photographs to Mike. They are unforgettable memories, a part of his life. Mike insists on shaking each child's hand. "Tell your children that you shook the hand of a survivor of the Holocaust. There may not be any of us alive when your children are born." What a testimony and an admonition to not forget the horror from a true hero.

Congressman Sam Johnson Tells of POW Experiences

One of my "true American heroes" is United States Congressman Sam Johnson of Texas. Ten years ago when Sam was a Texas Representative running for the US Congress, our family joined other homeschoolers in helping Sam get elected. As a result of our involvement, we were aboard a chartered plane that carried 50 homeschoolers and other more influential contributors to Washington DC to see Sam sworn in as a Congressman. Though I have been politically active since I was 15 years old and worked on numerous campaigns, there have been very few men worthy of giving your all for. Sam Johnson is one of those men, and I wanted my students to know this special man and his special wife, Shirley.

Sam Johnson signing his book
In Sam's autobiography Captive Warriors, which was required reading for my American history students about the Viet Nam conflict, Sam relates his torturous captivity for nearly seven years as a POW spending three and a half of those years in solitary confinement. The book gives a chilling account of the barbaric Vietnamese tying the feet and hands of Sam and other POW's together behind them and then hanging them from a ceiling hook for days on end. Unthinkable torture, unthinkable conditions spelled out from one who lived through it.

I could have had my students look Sam up on the Internet to learn about his 29-year career in the Air Force where he served as director of the Air Force Fighter Weapons School known as Top Gun, or to learn that he flew with the Thunderbirds, the Air Force precision flying team.

Jared, Mrs. Johnson, Jessica, and Sam Johnson
Sam's list of awards is lengthy: two Silver Stars, two Legions of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, one Bronze Star with Valor, two Purple Hearts, four Air Medals, and three Outstanding Unit Awards. Quite an impressive list! But you do not really understand the cost of that list until you shake hands with Sam, and his hand does not conform to your hand. As a POW Sam's body was beaten and wrenched in some places beyond repair, but his indomitable spirit remained in tact. Face to face you see the courage and faith in his steel blue eyes that sustained him in Viet Nam and is still sustaining him as a US Congressman standing for conservative values and freedom. As my student Brittany said, "What a privilege to meet such a great man!"

Children recognize greatness. They know when they meet a hero face to face. It is so important to have them dine with, converse with, listen to, meet with, and share the company of great people of character, great people of contribution, great people of consequence, and great people of conscience. What heroes will you meet next year? There are heroes in your own backyard. Introduce your co-op kids to them.

KONOS kids with the Johnson

Jessica Hulcy is co-author of the popular KONOS family of unit-study curriculum and products. Send her your unit-study-related questions at PO Box 250, Anna, TX 75409.

Jessica's Gems: How to Get Guests for Your Co-op

I am often asked, "How in the world do you have such special guests or true heroes meet with your co-op?" The answer is easy... I just ask. Now, before I ask, I pray for the Lord to bring who He wants my students to meet and hear. Everyone I ask does not always say, "Yes." When I asked President Bush to meet with us when we were in Washington DC, he was unable to work us into his busy schedule; however, it never hurts to ask. Two weeks after our tour was in DC, friends of ours from a private school in Texas were meeting the President on the White House lawn. Always ask. If you do not ask, you will never know who you are missing!

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