by Janet Lyons, Local & Legendary project consultant, Maine Humanities Council
On February 12, 28 students, veterans, and community members met in Bill Guerrette’s grade 8 classroom at Presque Isle Middle School to discuss Soldier’s Heart: Being the Story of the Enlistment and Due Service of the Boy Charley Goddard in the First Minnesota Volunteers by Gary Paulsen.
As part of the “One Book” portion of Presque Isle’s Local & Legendary: Maine in the Civil War grant project, students in Bill’s class have been studying the Civil War and reading Soldier’s Heart. They welcomed the opportunity to hear what veterans thought about the book, the Civil War, and war in general. The seven veterans, who between them served in WWII up to the present day, brought a wealth of firsthand experience to the discussion.
Community members included a Civil War re-enactor, a Civil War scholar, and participants from the January Book discussion of The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg who were looking for another book to read and discuss.
Discussion facilitator Jan Grieco led a wide-ranging and inclusive discussion. Topics included how military life today is the same (endless drilling) and different from the Civil War (weapons, food, medicine); why we fight; why kids today think that they are younger than Charlie was at 15; communication between the home front and soldiers; and why the war was fought.
After an hour and fifteen minutes, the final question of the evening came from a student who asked the veterans, “If you had to do it again would you still enlist?” The overwhelming answer was yes, but one older veteran told them to get an education first. When asked to write a reflection in class about the book discussion all the students mentioned that they were glad that the veterans came and shared their experiences.
Three weeks later students from Northern Maine Community College, Presque Isle Historical Society members, and Civil War aficionados gathered at The Aroostook Medical Center on a frigidly cold evening for a book talk led by Lynne Nelson Manion, another activity under the “One Book” umbrella.
Students read passages from This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust to introduce discussion points. Discussion focused on Christian faith, the number of people touched by death, medical changes, and the concept of a “good death.” To wrap up the evening a gentleman shared some family letters and telegrams which vividly illustrated the concept of a “good death.”