A veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars, Lesil Bomar, appreciates people who respect him for his service. But he says it's important not to overlook the sacrifices that families of veterans made.
Bomar said he wanted to make that point clear during interviews with Ironwood Ridge High School students who included Bomar's stories in the book "Since You Asked: Arizona Veterans Share Their Memories."
"I tried to impress upon them what our families go through," said Bomar, who served in the 140th Medium Tank Battalion, 40th Infantry Division in Korea under the command of George Patton IV, son of the famed World War II general. The division received a Presidential Unit Citation.
" 'Military wife' is the hardest job in the military," Bomar said.
Bomar and his wife, JoAnne, have been married for 53 years and live in Oro Valley. When recalling his war experiences, he remembers how hard it was to leave JoAnne and their three children behind when serving in Vietnam.
Capturing Bomar's first-hand account of history is just what Ironwood Ridge economics and world history teacher Don Dickinson had in mind when he started a local chapter of the Veterans Heritage Project, a Phoenix-based nonprofit dedicated to helping students tell veterans' stories.
Dickinson and about 20 students who are members of the club spent the past year or so interviewing veterans for the self-published book.
The group published the book, a first in an annual series, in April and submitted its research to the Library of Congress. The book also included work from club chapters from Show Low and Tanque Verde high schools, as well as a community college in Maryland.
The book includes tales of veterans from World War II onward, all the way through current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The club paid Color House Graphics in Grand Rapids, Mich., $2,880 to print 200 copies. The Sun City Vistoso Foundation footed most of that cost, with the club covering the rest with fundraisers.
"We have over 30 stories, all written by students. That's the really great part," Dickinson said. "We would go into a veteran's home and we'd have sort of a standard set of questions that we'd ask. But usually we'd ask one and the veteran would take us from there, from the time he enlisted right through his whole career."
Dickinson said learning the stories of bravery and personal sacrifice changed the way he teaches. Since he started the project he has strived to bring veterans into the classroom to tell students about their experiences.
His students "are getting history as it was, told by those who were there, not by textbooks extracting a certain point of view," Dickinson said.
With the book project, students became historians.
One such historian was Maggie Mang, a senior who graduated this month.
"I learned there was definitely a human element I didn't know about before, especially what you learn in the textbooks about Vietnam," said Mang, who will attend Emory University in Atlanta on a pre-med track.
"You read about the slaughtering of whole villages, but you never learned their side of the story. Why they did that. (American soldiers) were not heartless people. They believed that they were doing something really, really good for the country. They wanted to protect their families and friends, and when they came back home it was hard on them. They came back to the country and had people criticizing them."
Bomar relished the chance to share in the students' education.
"I was very pleasantly surprised," he said. "I think it's a wonderful thing for students to know what veterans have been going through since before this country became a country."
"I was very pleasantly surprised. I think it's a wonderful thing for students to know what veterans have been going through since before this country became a country."
A veteran of the Korean and Vietnam Wars
To buy the book
Call Ironwood Ridge High School teacher Don Dickinson at 780-7827. The book is $25.
Contact reporter Phil Villarreal at 573-4130 or firstname.lastname@example.org