Kaleb Parham, of Osborne (Ga.) High School, and Adriana Escobedo, of Westside (Texas) High School, interview World War II veteran William Kelly on Saturday at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. Photo by Steve Arel/U.S. Army Cadet Command

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Textbooks provide a limited perspective of history.

Take World War II, for instance. Most publishers devote only a few pages at most to the six-year conflict that largely established the United States as a super power.

Students won't learn in an abbreviated synopsis about the anxiety of teenage men leaving home for the first time to go to fight in a faraway land, the anguish of watching friends die in battle or the relief of returning home -- alive -- to the arms of a jubilant nation.

So Army Junior ROTC students taking part in the annual Cadet Command-sponsored Junior Leadership and Academic Bowl fanned out Saturday across the nation's capital to find those who could articulate history best: those who lived it.

They found veterans like William Kelly, whose Army unit advanced through France and into Germany en route to the Battle of the Bulge in 1944. Now 87 and residing in New Jersey, the former Soldier talked to students who interviewed him at the World War II Memorial about how the monument served as a reminder of the hardships of war.

Kaleb Parham, of Osborne (Ga.) High School, peppered Kelly with questions while Adriana Escobedo, of Westside (Texas) High School, ran a video camera. The students said they were moved by the discussion.

"I've never really met another World War II veteran, other than my grandfather," Parham said. In interviewing Kelly, "it was nice to get a different perspective and understand what they went through. You learn more than with a textbook because here you can hear the emotion and know what they felt."

"This is the 101 of what really went on," Escobedo said.

Eight groups of students -- 160 in all -- were tasked with supplementing their knowledge of American history through visits to national monuments and interviews with those who provide what textbooks cannot. Besides the World War II Memorial, Cadets' research included stops to Arlington National Cemetery and the Lincoln, Jefferson, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Vietnam and Korean War memorials.

With all the information they gather, each group must put together online presentations that connect their research with the leadership tenets of famed Army Gens. George C. Marshall and Douglas MacArthur.

"Honestly, they're the two greatest leaders in the history of our nation," said retired Lt. Col. Tom Torbert, leadership program manager for JLAB. "What greater examples are there?"

Through their work this weekend, Cadets not only will learn about the sites they visited and the events and people they depict, but also about themselves. Collaborating with students from around the country and required to put together reports on their research by specified deadlines, Cadets are being tested in leader development areas such as decision-making, time-management and teamwork.

Part of the aim of JLAB is that participants will return to their schools this fall and mentor younger students about all they learned.

"This all ties into the JROTC curriculum," Torbert said. "They're learning here with a sense of enthusiasm."

JLAB combines a leadership symposium with an academic quiz bowl. Forty Army programs are taking part in the symposium, and another 24 are squaring off against Navy and Air Force teams in a contest that tests students' knowledge of SAT/ACT-type questions and prepares them for high school exit exams in their respective states, as well as college entrance tests.

Opening rounds of the academic bowl began Saturday at George Mason University. The Army JROTC finals are Sunday afternoon, with the all-service final following.

As for the bulk of students in the leadership symposium, many were in awe of the sites they had only previously read about.

Even though he participated in JLAB last year, Stephen Shotkoski, of Summit (Texas) High School, valued the opportunity to further his knowledge of American history.

"This is amazing," he said, looking out at the countless rows of tombstones in Arlington National Cemetery. "This is the best way to pay respect to the people who gave everything they had."
Walking among the tombstones, Sarah Beck, of Calumet (Mich.) High School, came across one of an Iraq War veteran, evoking thoughts of two friends who just graduated and are going into the military.

"They're doing it for a good cause," she said.

The trip to Washington was the first for Eric Crowe, of Westside (Texas) High School. The soon-to-be senior will be the executive officer of his JROTC program this fall, and he said he hoped the experience would prove to be a difference-maker in helping him lead others.

Dictating inscriptions chiseled into the marble from around the World War II Memorial into his phone, Crowe was moved by the visit.

"The best way to put it is this is a journey back in time," he said. "Reading in textbooks, you know it happened, but here you realize people suffered and died for freedom and to stop tyrants. It's a lot more concrete than reading about it."

Another group of students met Donald Adam, a volunteer at the Vietnam War Memorial and himself an Air Force veteran of the conflict. After Cadets posed with photos of him, they asked him about his experiences in the war and the way he was treated when he returned home.

He told them of how he struggled with detractors as he pursued his college degree -- he dropped a couple of classes after professors made veiled threats that he wouldn't pass -- and tried to land a job.

"I don't know if I was for or against the war," Adams said to the students. "I went there to do a job. I wouldn't change anything. It helped me grow up."

Students found the interaction to be a vital learning experience they could only get outside the classroom.

"You get to hear actual stories," said Kimberly Tamez, of Sam Rayburn (Texas) High School. "It makes it more realistic."

Page last updated Sat June 23rd, 2012 at 19:08