Students will:

  • evaluate the mood of a country at war
  • compare and contrast the views of three individuals who had different experiences at war and circumstances as they returned home
  • analyze the country’s reaction to military personnel when they returned home
Middle and High SchoolSocial Studies, Political Science, Sociology, Veterans Day

One to Two Class Sessions

Medal of Honor Focus: Hershel Williams, U.S. Marine Corps, World War II (Pacific); Tibor Rubin, U.S. Army, Korean War; and Sammy Davis, U.S. Army, Vietnam War

For the Teacher:
Prepare the room by setting up the videos and writing the following three comments on the board:

  1. During World War II the entire nation was behind the war effort, and soldiers were welcomed home.
  2. The Korean War is often called the “forgotten war.”
  3. American sentiment turned against the Vietnam War, and soldiers were often shunned when they returned home.

The teacher will also place three flip charts in separate corners, one for each war/video.

Introductory Activity:
Students will read “The Four Freedoms” by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The teacher will highlight freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear as core values that provided ideological reasons for opposing the Germans and Japanese in World War II.

The teacher will explain that the Korean War should be viewed in the context of “containment” (George F. Kennan: Soviet expansionism should be “contained” and eventually capitalism would defeat communism) and the Truman Doctrine (send economic and military support to countries to fight off communism).

To highlight the open-ended commitment to containment that carried into the Vietnam War, the teacher should read the following excerpt from President John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address: “Let every nation know that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

Whole Group Activity:
Students will view the videos of Medal of Honor Recipients Hershel Williams, Tibor Rubin, and Sammy Davis, take notes about their different war experiences, and think about the most memorable moments or statements.

Small Group/Individual Activity:
Divide the class into three groups. Set up three stations (one for each Recipient/conflict) and rotate groups through the stations. On the flip charts, students will write the key “take-away,” the most important moment, or a memorable statement. Answers cannot be repeated. After three minutes, students move to the next board.

Whole Group Activity:
Have students reassemble and discuss the following questions:

  • How did the groups differ in their perceptions?
  • What are the similarities among the Recipients?
  • What are the differences among the Recipients?

Individual Activity:
Ask students to imagine that they had the opportunity to conduct an interview with any Medal of Honor Recipient. The person may be from any war in which the Medal of Honor was awarded, but the Recipient must be a real person, and the circumstances behind the award must be real. Write a one to two page (200-500 words) response of what that person thought was the most important value connected with the action that led to the Medal.

Concluding Activity:
Remind students of the comments written on the board at the beginning: During World War II the entire nation was behind the war effort and soldiers were welcomed home; the Korean War is often called the forgotten war; and American sentiment turned against the Vietnam War, and soldiers were often shunned when they returned home. Ask students if those circumstances may have influenced the perspectives of these and other Medal of Honor Recipients from these wars, or if their views were independent of the national mood.

Responses to questions, essay

“The Four Freedoms,” Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Address to Congress on January 6, 1941
President John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, Friday, January 20, 1961
Living History videos for Hershel WilliamsTibor Rubin, and Sammy Davis; flip charts

Extended Activity:
Ask students to read excerpts from Killer Angels, a historical novel about the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War, or view the clip from the movie Gettysburg at the scene in which Colonel Chamberlain is convincing the prisoners from Maine to join his regiment in battle. What is the significance of the Gettysburg battle, and why were they fighting? Discuss which issues are universal.

Have students watch the scene from the movie Gettysburg in which Colonel Chamberlain is on Little Round Top when the Confederates begin their charge to flank the Union Army. Discuss the courage and decision- making of the various soldiers, the military charges, and decision to “man bayonets.”

Have students locate the battle sites where the three Medal of Honor Recipients in the videos fought. What role did geography play in these battles?

Have students research the technology of these battles, including weaponry and medicine. What role did weapons, technology, and medicine play in these battles