BELLMORE, NY— Mepham High School students last week learned important history lessons from World War II and Korean War veterans, thanks to Kelly Soel, RN, a North Shore-LIJ community health nurse, who helped connect veterans and students for one-on-one video interviews to be filed with the Library of Congress Veterans History Project.
In helping residents of Project Plainview Assisting Community Elders (PACE), part of the Plainview-Old Bethpage Neighborhood Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (NNORC), maintain their physical and mental health, Ms. Soel regularly works with a number of veterans. "I listened to the story of one man’s journey from a young boy in Brooklyn to a prisoner of war in Germany, and realized that I’d stumbled upon a reservoir of history on the verge of being lost," said Ms. Soel. She then initiated a group among the NNORC members in which veterans could gather to share their experiences while promoting health, well-being and a deeper sense of community. While researching topics for discussion at the group meetings, she came across the Library of Congress Veterans History Project aimed at recording first-hand accounts of servicemen for future generations.
Reaching out to her daughter’s high school, Ms. Soel gave veterans the chance to share their experiences as servicemen with scholarship students from Mepham High School who took part in the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History scholarship program as a history assignment, "Uncovering the Past." The students video recorded and documented their interviews which will be logged with the Library of Congress. "This is the chance of a lifetime for our students," said the class’ teacher Kerry Dennis. "Each one of them feels honored to speak with those that lived through the trials and tribulations of our nation’s history."
Paul Zadoff, 90, spoke to three students about his experience serving in World War II at Iwo Jima. "You learn about the war through text books, but it was nothing like being there," he said. "We went directly into combat and many of us expected to die—but I made it back and have the real story to tell so it’s not forgotten." Melvin Breshin, 67, who served as an Army captain in South Korea during the Vietnam War, also emphasized to students the importance of learning what happened and passing that knowledge to future generations. Both are members of the Plainview-Old Bethpage NNORC, administered by the Mid-Island Y Jewish Community Center, which provides services and resources that enable senior residents over the age of 60 to live independently in their homes.
Ms. Soel feels a deep connection to the project through her work with the NNORC and hopes that some day her son, a Second Class Petty Officer with the US Navy, will be able to teach the next generation first-hand about the sacrifices and bravery of the men and women that serve our country. "We are bringing the greatest generation to the latest generation," she said. And the veterans were more than happy to share their past—"their legacy will live on through the bright young minds of tomorrow."