THE FILM: This lesson plan utilizes the film and website resources for The Way We Get By, which tells the story of a group of volunteers who have greeted more than 900,000 troops at a tiny airport in Bangor, Maine. Classrooms can use these resources to conduct an investigation that compares and contrasts the homecoming experiences of soldiers who served in World War II and the wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.
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By the end of this lesson, students will:
GRADE LEVELS: 6-12
ESTIMATED TIME NEEDED: One 50-minute class period, plus time outside of class to research and write student essays.
Clip 1: “Welcome Home” (length 0:58)
The clip starts at 3:22 as Bill walks on a crosswalk and ends at 4:20 when a female soldier and a troop greeter hug.
Clip 2: “Soldiers Response to the Troop Greeters” (length 2:43)
The clip begins at 15:56 when the soldier says, “I think you sort of prepare yourself to be numb…” and ends at 18:39 when the soldier says, ” …my children will know who those two men were.”
The group featured in the film, the Maine Troop Greeters, is comprised of volunteers who come together to welcome the return of or bid farewell to American military service members at Bangor International Airport (BIA). The airport is the first major American airport for airplanes approaching the United States from the east, as well as the last major airport for airliners going toward Europe. Its location, uncluttered airspace and long runway make it a favorite stop for military planes. The Maine Troop Greeters’ efforts began in 1991, when members began to greet troops traveling to serve in the first Persian Gulf War. Over the last six years, the group has greeted more than 5,000 flights, carrying more than 900,000 service members. In addition to hugs and handshakes, the greeters have provided free cell phones and snacks. Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton have joined the troop greeters at the Bangor airport. There are similar greeting programs around the country in areas such as Dallas, TX; Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN; and Pease, NH.
1. Tell students that you are going to show them a video clip of a group of volunteers from the Maine Troop Greeters as they welcome home a flight of soldiers at the airport in Bangor, Maine. Explain that the Maine Troop Greeters show up day and night to provide soldiers with handshakes, hugs, snacks, free cell phone service and messages of thanks. Then, play Clip 1.
2. Next, have the class watch a clip that shows a few of the soldiers who have been welcomed by the Maine Troop Greeters. Ask students to take notes on how the soldiers respond to the greeters and what the soldiers seem to be feeling as they return home. Then, play Clip 2.
3. Divide the class into groups of three and ask each group to research, compare and contrast the homecoming experiences of soldiers in the video with troops who fought in World War II and the Vietnam War. Ask students to take notes on the provided handout as they collect information. The POV website features a photo gallery of Maine Troop Greeters and a collection of stories from soldiers and family members who have benefited from their hospitality. Some Vietnam veterans have also submitted their experiences to POV’s Regarding War website. Vietnam War veteran Bill Hunt shares his point of view online. Students can also read letters from Vietnam veterans who described their homecoming experiences to Chicago Tribune staffer Bob Greene in the book, Homecoming: When the Soldiers Returned From Vietnam. Students can make observations and inferences about the return of soldiers after World War II by watching a video slideshow or by watching newsreel footage of the end of the war. (Go to video.google.com and search for “VE Day VJ Day End of WWII Celebrations 1945 Newsreel and Stock Footage.”) While these resources also provide insights about political and social factors that may have influenced how troops were welcomed home from the two conflicts, students should feel free to consult their textbooks and the websites in the Resources section for more information, or to conduct additional research on their own.
4. Ask student groups to discuss their research findings and analyze what these homecoming experiences for soldiers reveal about the politics and culture of the United States during the time period of each war.
5. Conclude the activity by asking students to write compare/contrast essays.
Students can be assessed on:
EXTENSIONS & ADAPTATIONS
How to Write a Compare/Contrast Essay
This article provides a quick summary of how to write this type of essay.
World War II Materials
The Library of Congress has compiled a host of resources from its own collection and the collections of other organizations.
Veterans History Project
This resource from the Library of Congress archives the personal accounts of war veterans involved in conflicts since World War I.
The Vietnam War
The Digital History website, a project of the University of Houston, contains extensive information about the Vietnam War era.
These standards are drawn from “Content Knowledge,” a compilation of content standards and benchmarks for K-12 curriculum by McRel (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning)
Standard 1: Understands that group and cultural influences contribute to human development, identity and behavior.
Standard 10: Understands the role of volunteerism and organized groups in American social and political life.
Standard 13: Understands the character of American political and social conflict and factors that tend to prevent or lower its intensity.
Standard 1: Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process.
Standard 4: Gathers and uses information for research purposes.
Standard 7: Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts.
Standard 9: Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media.
Standard 25: Understands the causes and course of World War II, the character of the war at home and abroad and its reshaping of the U.S. role in world affairs.
Standard 27: Understands how the Cold War and conflicts in Korea and Vietnam influenced domestic and international politics.
Standard 30: Understands developments in foreign policy and domestic politics from the Nixon to the Clinton presidencies.
Standard 31: Understands economic, social and cultural developments in the contemporary United States.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Cari Ladd, M.Ed., is an educational writer with a background in secondary education and media development. Previously, she served as PBS Interactive’s director of education, overseeing the development of curricular resources tied to PBS programs, the PBS TeacherSource website (now PBS Teachers), and online teacher professional development services. She has also taught in Maryland and northern Virginia.
» “A Short History of the Maine Troop Greeters.” The Maine Troop Greeters Official Website.
» “Saying Thank You to Those Who Answered the Call of Duty.” Katie Zezima. The New York Times. Sept. 20, 2006.
» “Volunteers Greet Troops Every Day.” Martha Waggoner. Associated Press. June 20, 2008.