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Local Teacher Works to Honor Veterans

What started as a small project by one Edsel Ford teacher has grown into a large-scale search to identify and honor Dearborn's fallen Vietnam veterans.

Dearborn lost 69 soldiers in the Vietnam War–all of them at a relatively young age. Now Lisa Lark, an English teacher at , is working to gather information on all of them so that they can be honored during the city's 2011 Memorial Day Parade.

She has partnered with the city of Dearborn and the Dearborn Allied War Veterans on the project and has gathered lots of information, but is still looking for more.

The idea of doing this project came from the students Lark teaches.

Edsel Ford holds a Memorial Day ceremony every year to honor 23 veterans who were also graduates of the high school. Lark wanted to specifically do research about those 23 veterans, but wound up coming across many interesting stories about other students from other schools–so many, that she had to include them all.

“On Memorial Day 2010, I had my students write a letter to the family of a fallen soldier,” Lark said. “Some of the students asked if they can write to the family of the men who were from Edsel Ford who died. I didn’t know who these people were and my students kept asking questions about them. So I decided to do some research about them, and it expanded to researching about all of them.”

Lark also has one of her students helping her out with this project–Edsel Ford senior Michelle Kerr. Kerr said the project interested her “because it’s giving these fallen soldiers a voice.”

“Sometimes in America we forget that the freedoms we possess come with a price," she added. "These men left their normal lives to serve and protect this great country we live in, and I honestly don't believe they have gotten enough credit for it.”

Kerr's involvement in the project, she explained, has continued to grow.

“My role in this project is to take the information about these men that my teacher has collected and put together sort of a profile for each fallen soldier,” she said. “I research information about their lives previous to enlisting in the military to really get an idea about who they were as people before going to Vietnam or other places.

"I also assist my teacher in trying to contact as many family members of the soldiers that I can, who may give me more information about them," she added. "We send these families surveys with questions about the soldiers in hopes that they will respond, and I will learn more about each one.”

As much information as Lark and Kerr have gathered, it hasn’t been easy. Lark sends an introductory letter to each family before contacting them, explaining her project's goal, but getting people to open up about the past is still difficult, she said.

“All of the families of these men are a little hesitant to talk about it at first, because it’s been such a long time,” Lark said. “But most have opened up, and there were a few who weren’t comfortable talking about it. But I thought it was important to let them understand why I was doing this."

According to Lark, some of the most surprising facts she has discovered are the way the vets died–everything from car and plane crashes to diseases. One man who was only in his early 20s died from a heart attack.

“You get this impression of war being guns, mortars and booby traps," she said, "and you kind of overlook the fact that there are still car accidents, you can drown when you’re swimming and things like that. I expected combat deaths, but it was the little things that surprised me."

Craig Tillman, a Vietnam veteran and commander of the Dearborn Allied War Veterans Council, is in full support of Lark’s project.

“As a Vietnam veteran and growing up in Dearborn, I probably knew six or eight of these young men from either going to school with them or playing against them in sports,” he said. “This project is important because it is putting a face to the name. This is going to show that these young men are more than a statistic from a war that nobody wanted. These men had a full life ahead of them before they paid the ultimate sacrifice so that the people of this great country of ours could remain free.”

Like Kerr, Tillman believes that the fallen soldiers need to be given a voice, and that more needs to be taught about the Vietnam War.

“From what I understand, not a whole lot is told in history classes in our schools across America about what happened in Vietnam,” he added. “I would like to see more taught in schools about Vietnam. Sure the war was unpopular, but all the men and women who served in that country did our very best to keep communism from taking over. I would like the students to know that we did our best.”

Anyone with information or willing to provide assistance in the project is asked to call Lisa Lark at 313-410-8477 or send an e-mail to dearbornsvietnam@gmail.com.

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