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History Behind the Site

HISTORY BEHIND THIS SITE: In the late spring of 2004, I watched as my students went merrily on their way around campus as if no important events were occurring in their midst. The media and the public had not yet begun to chronicle the deaths of Americans in the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. I was bothered that my students seemed so oblivious to the wars of their generation. So, along with my colleagues, we developed our annual project for the coming year for our Cornerstone Honors students.

They were charged with designing, funding and building a memorial on campus for the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. They first had to research previous memorials and then both classes of students (first and second year) had to agree on the design and explain why they chose it. Their design was simple — a wall of dog tags listing the names, rank and date of death. It was moving and humbling. Their inspiration was of course the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., but their reasoning was that they did not want to make a political statement but rather focus upon the individual lives lost. They proceeded to raise over $6,000 in 2 1/2 months! They worked at Sonic delivering food to customers and asking for donations. They held a yard sale, and they set up tables outside of Sam’s Club. They also went directly to suppliers of the needed materials and asked for donations. Their efforts were tremendous and stunning. They were ready to dedicate the memorial, although it was not complete with all of the dog tags, on Veteran’s Day, November 11, 2004.

My students’ decision to build a simple memorial that focused upon the individual loss and not upon patriotism or politics inspired me. I began to observe commemorations wherever I visited and to note similarities as well as differences. The following year, the students continued to add names, and I assigned students to research and write about various monuments around the world. From these assignments has grown my desire to create an interactive format by which I can continue to teach my students and help them see the world in new ways. An NEH Summer Seminar in Rome, which focused upon Trajan’s Column, was the initial kickoff of this project and allowed me to incorporate ancient commemorations. After some initial work, however, I realized that this could and should become a much larger project. In the summer of 2010 I decided to focus on developing the site and was awarded an NEH Teaching Development Fellowship to create and integrate this site into the teaching of my World Civilizations course. Funding from the NEH has helped to make this initial development possible.

The memorial also continued to grow as more and more dog tags had to be added. The Tarrant County College Northwest Afghanistan/Iraq War Memorial is the featured memorial on this site and I serve as Director. The Memorial now has 6 sections of dog tags. The Northwest Campus will be re-designed and rebuilt over the next few years and as a result the Memorial will be temporarily taken down and safely stored and then re-installed.