Living History Day returns


By Jessica Todd

North Central High School hosted its annual Living History Day on April 26. The event had been on a three-year hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Forty-one U.S. military veterans gathered to share their stories with students. Ten of the veterans were from Hoosier Village Senior Living Community at 9891 Purple Plum Lane, Indianapolis.

“The veterans divided amongst small tables throughout the day, where they told students about their military experience,” said Ron May, chaplain of Hoosier Village.

Living History Day began 18 years ago. Since then, Chris Vermillion, the social studies department chair at North Central High School, has worked to enhance the event each year.

“This event was started by a former librarian and social studies department chair,” Vermillion said. “The librarian’s dad was a World War II veteran, and she noticed that he and some friends did not have an outlet to share their experiences.”

Vermillion said Living History Day honors veterans who sacrificed so much for the freedom of others while giving sophomore U.S. history students a chance to see significant historical events through someone else’s eyes.

“Since our students have grown up without major U.S. wars or conflicts, it is natural that they would not fully understand the price our veterans have paid,” Vermillion said. “Students should participate because they will understand that freedom comes at a cost, that history is doomed to repeat itself if we do not learn from the past. I believe the students who have participated understand this at a deeper level than those who only take the class.

“The feedback we get from students is how much they enjoyed the period and learned from firsthand accounts of time spent serving in our military forces.”

The 10 participants from Hoosier Village were all Vietnam-era veterans.

“Not all of our veterans served in Vietnam during their service experience, but they were still involved in the military service during that time frame,” May said.

Veterans who attended from Hoosier Village were John Bellinger, Don Bievenour, Richard Cohee, William “Bill” Dunbar, Al Grayson, Jerry Klavon, Regis Kline, Don Murdoch, Tom Schemmel and Rick Wheeler.

Kline served in the U.S. Army from 1966 to 1972 and enrolled Officer’s Candidate School. He did a tour of duty in South Korea as a first lieutenant.

“I enjoyed meeting the sophomores and answering their questions, because most had no clue what the Army did,” Kline said. “I pointed out that I met many people and enjoyed serving in the Army. It was my first time at this event, and I look forward to doing it again next year.”

Bellinger served in the U.S. Navy and was as an officer in the Naval Civil Engineer Corps. After graduating from Purdue, he was commissioned an officer in August 1967 and was on active duty until January 1971.

“I did not serve in a Vietnam combat zone, so I could not share war stories with the students. However, I was able to talk about my life through that period and how life was much different from today, especially for a young male U.S. citizen,” Bellinger said. “I hope to repeat the experience next year and am certainly willing to participate in similar events elsewhere.”

Wheeler served in the Army from March 1970 to November 1971.

“I liked having the opportunity to interact with mature high school students and bring a voice and perspective to a subject they have studied in class,” Wheeler said. “The highlight for me was the ability to answer their questions about my experience and what they had studied. I would most definitely like to do similar events in the future.”

Schemmel served in Vietnam as a military advisor from January to December 1963 as part of a small special force sent by President John F. Kennedy.

“The students were most interested in the part of history leading to the war,” Schemmel said. “As I shared with the students, if you fail to know your history, you will be forced to relive it. It was a great experience, and I was so pleased to be a part of it.”

Murdoch served in the U.S. Air Force from 1967 to 1993.

“I liked interacting with the students,” Murdoch said. “I enjoyed telling my story, answering their questions and reflecting on how different life is today compared to when I returned from Vietnam in 1971.”

Cohee served in the Army from 1969 to 1971.

“I think the students were glad to hear my story about serving at Headquarters Company at Ft. Benjamin Harrison,” Cohee said. “I also did military funeral/burial services in several Midwestern states. I would be open to doing the event again someday.”

In 2018, World War II veterans from Hoosier Village participated in the event, and the campus regularly hosts various veteran events yearly. May intends to engage the veterans in future community events as well.

“Twice a year, we have an event where we recognize our newest veteran residents or the newest veteran spouses of deceased veterans,” May said. “On May 15, some of our veterans will attend the Senior Salute at the Boone County American Legion.”