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Remembering the sacrifice

Tarrant County College Professors Laura Matysek Wood ’85 (PhD) and Mike Nichols ’97 (PhD) are asking if today’s students are ignoring the Iraq War.

Remembering the sacrifice

Tarrant County College Professors Laura Matysek Wood ’85 (PhD) and Mike Nichols ’97 (PhD) are asking if today’s students are ignoring the Iraq War.

Baby boomers learned a lesson from their Vietnam War protests: Even if you object to a war, you support the men and women who are laying their lives on the line.

Are today’s college students making a different mistake: Are they ignoring the war in Iraq? That was the question that Tarrant County College Professors Laura Matysek Wood ’85 (PhD) and Mike Nichols ’97 (PhD) asked. And they were dismayed to discover their students acted as if Iraq were irrelevant to their lives.

So in 2004, Wood and Nichols, co-directors of the TCC Cornerstone Honors program at the Northwest Campus, asked the honors students to create a memorial for servicemen and women who died in Iraq and Afghanistan. “It seemed to be a good way to get them aware of the war. To realize that people their age were putting their lives in danger,” Wood said.

While the teachers said the memorial could have been anything – flowers, a small plaque — the students designed an impressive memorial that’s placed in a prominent courtyard on campus and consists of aluminum panels over a steel-coated frame and 3,600 dog tags with the name, rank and date of death of each serviceman or woman riveted to the panels. The students raised the funds for the project and did much of the work themselves, included inscribing the dog tags (a Marine Corps unit and an Air Force unit let the students use their engraving machines).

The project isn’t just about the physical artifact, either. The honor students have researched memorials, learning how they have changed over time. They’ve learned how to present a eulogy. And it’s greatly increased their awareness of the war, something that matters, particularly, to those fellow TCC students who happen to be veterans.

“Every once in a while, I’ll have a young person, a young man usually, who’s been very quiet during discussions of the war, and he’ll come up to me and talk about how difficult it is to hear the other students complaining about a class or being wrong or being upset because they couldn’t get into a movie they wanted to see and it just seems so trivial to them having just come back from Iraq,” Wood says.

On Veterans Day the students held an all-night vigil at the memorial. They read out the names, and a bugler played “Taps.” They’ll almost certainly hold a similar program this Veterans Day. And the students will continue to add to the memorial as long as soldiers’ lives are being lost.