On November 11, we celebrate Veterans Day. It’s our chance to salute the 18 million veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces and show our appreciation for the sacrifices they made to protect our country.
Many people confuse Veterans Day with Memorial Day. While Memorial Day honors soldiers who died in service to the United States, Veterans Day honors all who served—both living and dead—in the U.S. Armed Forces. In the U.S., we show our respect for veterans with an official wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery, in Virginia, and with parades and other celebrations across the country.
The coronavirus pandemic may change the way we participate in these events. The biggest Veterans Day parade in New York, for instance, will be aired on TV and online. But it won’t change the spirit of these events. Our Veterans Day activities and lesson plan ideas for high school can make sure of that. They will give your students a chance to say “thank you” while ensuring our veterans get the acknowledgement they deserve.
Veterans Day Activities for High School Students
Read on for Veterans Day activities that will bring the experiences of service members to life and help high school students understand why it’s so important to never forget those who risked their lives to keep us safe.
1. Write a Letter to a Veteran
Many veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression. As a group, veterans also have a high rate of unemployment and suicide. Veterans, and even deployed service members who spend time away from family, appreciate heartfelt letters expressing appreciation for their service. According to Operation Gratitude, the letters are the most cherished items in the care packages the group sends. One enlisted man serving aboard the USS Ross in Spain called the letters a “ray of sunshine for the crew” after a tough deployment and mandatory quarantine due to the coronavirus pandemic. You can sign up with Operation Gratitude for a letter-writing toolkit and mailing instructions. If distance learning makes it difficult to collect handwritten letters from students, you can always have them write a message online. Operation Gratitude will print the message on a postcard and send it.
2. Read Books About Soldiers' Experiences
Have students read the first chapter of author Tim O’Brien’s book of short stories about the Vietnam War, The Things They Carried. Start a discussion: What are some of the physical objects the soldiers carry? What do the objects tell you about the characters, their emotional states, and the war’s impact? Point out O’Brien’s use of repetition as a storytelling device. What affect does the repetition have on you?
To get a sense of what veterans today carry with them from their time in the military, have students listen to an NPR interview with Tim O’Brien on the 20th anniversary of the publication of The Things They Carried. One caller shared that he carries “shrapnel in my leg and bitterness.” O’Brien shared his own burdens: “I carry the memories of the ghosts of a place called Vietnam—the people of Vietnam, my fellow soldiers. More importantly, I carry the weight of responsibility, and a sense of abiding guilt.” Have students write a paragraph describing how these veterans' experiences are reflected in The Things They Carried.
Additional reading for high schoolers on soldiers' experience and the impact of war:
- The Heart You Carry Home by Jennifer Miller
- Soldier from the War Returning: The Greatest Generation's Troubled Homecoming from World War II by Thomas Childers
- The Last of the Doughboys: The Forgotten Generation and Their Forgotten World War by Richard Rubin
- The Slopes of War by Norah Perez
- The War to End All Wars: World War I by Russell Freedman
- The Slaves' War: The Civil War in the Words of Former Slaves by Andrew Ward
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