When a student asked Cave Creek teacher Barbara Hatch back in 1996 if the events in “Saving Private Ryan” were real, she saw an opportunity. She immediately began inviting veterans into her classroom to talk about World War II.
In 2004, the English and history teacher took it a step further and began the Veterans Heritage Project Club. Interested students began interviewing veterans of all wars and having their work published in a booked called “Since You Asked.”
Nowadays, the Veterans Heritage Project is a non-profit organization, students from 30 schools in Arizona and Florida participate and Hatch, long-retired, is just as busy as ever publishing their stories.
So far 3,000 veterans have told their stories and this year, Morenci resident Rudy Campos will be featured in Volume 17 of “Since You Asked”.
Morenci High School junior David Marquez, 17, has long dreamed of joining the military and last year he went to an academy to learn how to apply for the nation’s military academies. While there, he learned about Hatch and the Veterans Heritage Project.
Although MHS isn’t one of the schools that participates in the project yet, with Principal Don Goodman’s help, Marquez received permission to write and enter his essay on Campos.
When she first spoke with Marquez, Hatch said she was immediately impressed with his communication skills and later, with his professionalism.
“He had his story in a very short amount of time. We’re dealing with high school kids and they tend to drag their feet, which drives us crazy, but he wasn’t like that,” Hatch said. “He is an impressive young man.”
Once she read his story, Hatch said she remembers thinking she wished everyone wrote as well as he does. She hardly had to edit anything, it was complete and it was a compelling read.
“What I loved about it was that it was very real. You could tell it was very true to what the veteran said to him and he must have asked very good questions because his veteran was very forthcoming,” Hatch said. “It seems like it must have been a very good interview because if you don’t get anything from who you’re interviewing, you don’t have anything to write.”
Morenci has a large veteran population and it was difficult to choose one to interview, but Marquez said he chose Campos because he’s a close family friend.
During his time with the Vietnam veteran, he came to learn how Campos grew from an immature young man who kept losing jobs after the war into a responsible man.
“He learned there was a difference between growing old and growing up,” Marquez said. “He started seeing the world differently and he began speaking at jails and fostering children with his wife. Life gave him new meaning. He now had a permanent job and that was through working with Christ.”
Campos is “definitely a good role model,” Marquez said.
Marquez, who has a 3.65 grade point average and is in the top 20% of his class, says joining the military is just something he has to do. He’s applied for the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, West Point and the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Why does he want to join?
“The discipline and the leadership. I feel these are skills and a way of life that you can only learn there and they’re skills that are a good benefit to the community,” Marquez said.
He’d love to become a Marine, but doesn’t see making it a career. He hopes to eventually become a day trader and mechanic.
When he’s not studying, Marquez likes to work on cars, hang out with friends and read. He’s a member of the Spanish Honor Society and the high school swim team and he’s a life guard.
He believes strongly that the community at large needs to honor and help its veterans.
“I feel very grateful that they selected my essay for the project and I think Brother Rudy would feel very grateful, too,” Marquez said. “His story was an honor to write.”
Eight years ago, one of her students found a 110-year-old World War I veteran who also served in World War II and Korea.
“In the beginning the majority of our veterans were World War II veterans, but this year out of 106 veterans maybe five were from World War II and one of them passed away three weeks after he was interviewed at 100,” she said.
The project is just as much an education project as a history preservation project and many of the kids keep in touch with their veterans for years, Hatch said.
“Kids can’t have enough mentors,” she said.
In fact, Hatch said she is always looking for more schools and students to join the effort. Because it is such a huge undertaking, the schools tend to rotate in and out, she said.
Although the students and veterans usually get together for a large book-signing celebration, this year Hatch said they’ll be holding a drive-through celebration at Paradise Valley Community College April 17.
The event will be live-streamed and the veterans will receive their books at the end of the drive.