Some time abroad has provided a Chadron High School teacher the opportunity to research one of America’s fallen from World War I. Now, the information he’s tracked down will be published and used in lesson plans.
Michael Sandstrom, a teacher of U.S and World History, Civics and AP U.S. History at CHS, researched the life and service of Corporal William Charles Herman as part of Memorializing the Fallen — a teacher professional development program from National History Day®. In honor of Veterans Day, Sandstrom’s eulogy and profile of Corporal William Charles Herman will be published at NHDSilentHeroes.org. In addition, a lesson plan inspired by the Silent Hero, War Memorials Abroad: Foreign Memorialization of the Great War, is on the World War I page of National History Day’s website and will be featured in the upcoming publication, Great War, Flawed Peace, and the Lasting Legacy of World War I.
Sponsored by the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission and the Pritzker Military Museum & Library, the Memorializing the Fallen program takes educators on the journey of a lifetime to rediscover the history of World War I and invigorate its teaching in America’s classrooms. By researching the story of a Silent Hero®, an American service member who made the ultimate sacrifice during World War I, program participants can be the voice of these Americans who died a century ago.
Sandstrom explained he was in a class on World War I in 2018 when he heard about Memorializing the Fallen. He was among the 364 initial applicants and the less than 20 finalists selected.
In June 2019, Sandstrom joined 16 other educators as they traveled through Europe, walking in the footsteps of history. Using their research, teachers created lesson plans, Silent Hero profiles, and eulogies now published on NHDSilentHeroes.org.
“It was basically a World War I research and trip, during which you did three things.” Trying to be as local as possible, he first searched around Chadron. However, there were only three from the town who died in World War I, and none met the requirement of still being buried in France.
Looking to the surrounding area, he found Herman, who was buried at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery near Beauclair, France.
Sandstrom noted Becci Thomas, director of the Knight Museum in Alliance, was very helpful in his research as she is a distant relation of Herman’s and had several photographs of him. Among them are his family and their business. Further, he found information on Hermans’ military unit in his research and records of his gravesite. Perhaps the most interesting find is a letter from Herman’s mother, stating her son’s body would stay in France.
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After all his research, Sandstrom began work on the third part of the project – the eulogy, which involved a trip to the gravesite. Regarding is trip abroad, Sandstrom said it was an interesting experience. There are five major cemeteries that Americans are buried in overseas, so the educators traced America’s involvement from Belgium and along the Western Front at all the major cemeteries, stopping at each and reading eulogies for their soldiers.
They also had the opportunity to walk through German trenches. “They’re not quite as deep in some areas, “ Sandstrom said, “because of 100 years gone by, but it’s amazing that they’re still there. It was really interesting to walk in the ground and see where these sorts of things happened.” They also went into a series of underground cave networks used for fighting, many of which still have several unexploded ordinance, and artillery shell craters.
Sandstrom was also struck powerfully by the landscape of the area and his own imagining of what it might have been like to see the marches coming across what were once battlefields. Another interesting sight for him was the French memorials of their fallen, which consisted of soldiers’ bones stacked upon each other.
It’s amazing to see how much the war still affects things, Sandstrom said. “We always think of World War I as this small thing, but for the British and the French it’s a bigger deal than World War II.” For instance, Britain had 1,000,000 killed in World War I, compared to about 450,000 in World War II. France had 2,000,000 killed in WWI, compared to about 567,000 in WWII.
Sandstrom noted he also had time to see the regular tourist stops of France as well.
As for the lesson plan, he designed his around World War I memorials from different countries such as Australia, Britain and France, and how they differ from America.
Sandstrom said with being in the time period of the 100-year anniversary or WWI, it can be easy to forget. He believes the war is, in and of itself, important and needs to be thought about to a higher degree. For his students, he plans to have them read Herman’s profile and trace his route on a map, from Alliance to his final resting placing. He hopes people gain understanding that even though we’re from a small area when things happen on a national level they have a connection here.
Herman’s obituary and a video of Sandstrom’s eulogy are available at https://nhdsilentheroes.org/william-charles-herman