OLIVIA — Social studies instructors Heidi Gross and Katie Bahl for years talked about taking students to the nation’s capital. Their goal was to connect their students to the history and institutions they study.

Their opportunity came in the middle of June, when the two instructors at BOLD led 20 adults and 43 students in grades seven, eight and nine on a four-day trip to Washington, D.C. Now they are discussing the possibility of another trip in 2021.

The trip earlier this year brought an unexpected connection that brought tears the teachers would never have anticipated, nor will they be forgotten.

Now eighth-graders at BOLD, students Riley Boen and Allison Kadlec were among the participants. They said they remember walking with the group at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall when they saw their teachers and other adults turning teary-eyed. Soon, they were too.

“(My) friends saw me crying. It was like one, big group hug,” Kadlec said.

Their tour guides had led them to the panel bearing the name of Pfc. Charles Henry White. A native of Renville, White was an anti-tank assaultman with the U.S. Marines when he gave his life in combat at age 18 on March 26, 1967, in Quang Ngai Province, South Vietnam.

A war that ended three decades before these students were born no longer seemed so distant.

Soon, Boen was etching a copy of White’s name on the wall. Everyone listened as their tour guides offered a short history of the Marine’s life and service to country.

“That one really hit us hard,” Gross said.

After all, she said, their students were not far removed in age from White when he gave his life. As the students learned about him, they realized they shared so many of the same experiences with him. He played sports in school and grew up in Renville County doing many of the same things they do today.

Gross and Bahl said they found themselves every bit as emotional as the students.

At the wall, Boen’s mother recognized the name and remembered his parents. Other connections to the White family came out, even more so in the days that followed. As the students and parents shared their experiences on Facebook, friends in Renville County shared their memories of the fallen serviceman and his family. They even heard from surviving family members of White.

The visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was not the only emotional experience on this trip. Kadlec and Boen said they and their fellow students were moved as well by visits to the Holocaust Museum and the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial.

The two teachers said they were surprised at first when they visited the Pentagon Memorial. The students were not familiar with some of the history of 9/11 that the teachers and other adults on the trip take for granted. But then, these students were born five years after the tragic event.

While there were these somber moments, the trip participants want it known that overall, this was a very fun, and educational trip. Their tour included visits to the Smithsonian Institution, the White House and the Capitol, Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, Ford's Theatre and other landmarks. They gave their tour guides, World Classrooms of Aberdeen, South Dakota, high marks for how it all went.

The goal now is to do it all again. The two teachers are hosting a meeting for students and adults for a possible trip in 2021.

Like the recent trip, the planned trip will be offered for students in seventh, eighth and ninth grades. These are the grades when they will be studying many of the topics to which they can connect on the trip.

The students on this year’s trip will take up their study of the Vietnam War when they are in their junior year. Kadlec and Boen said they thought the trip was both interesting and lots of fun. And they agree it’s making their classroom studies a lot more interesting too.

Renville County casualties remembered

At least four servicemen who gave their lives in Vietnam and have ties to Renville County are listed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. The Renville County Historical Society maintains a binder with the names of the county’s casualties in the war. It is not known if this listing is complete, but at this time these servicemen from the county are remembered on the wall:

  • Private First Class Charles Henry White, U.S. Marines, of Renville. Died at age 18, March 26, 1967, in Quang Ngai Province, South Vietnam;
  • Lance Corporal Donald Alvin Liebl, U.S. Marines, of Fairfax. Died at age 20, Sept. 15, 1969, Quang Tri Province, South Vietnam;
  • Warrant Officer Steven William Goelz, U.S. Army, of Morton. Died at age 21, Feb. 24, 1971, Binh Duong Province, South Vietnam;
  • Staff Sergeant Michael Reid Elwell, U.S. Army, of Gaylord and Fairfax area. Died at age 23, Feb. 8, 1968, Thua Thien Province, South Vietnam.