Veterans’ stories preserved by Malden middle-schoolers
MALDEN - Julia Parker and Victoria Savini-Burke figured the Library of Congress would be just another big old building in Washington.
But the Beebe School seventh-graders were awed by the marble floors, stained-glass ceiling, and the artwork that adorns its grand rooms.
“It was still a library, but it was so much more than just a library,’’ said Parker, 12. “We saw the first [printed] Bible [Gutenberg’s] and historical maps.’’
“We saw a lot, a lot of statues and paintings,’’ said Savini-Burke, also 12.
The pair were among six Malden middle schoolers who visited the library last spring to donate a video called “My Generation: World War II,’’ an oral history project they produced in an after-school program run by the Partnership for Community Schools in Malden. Twenty-three sixth-graders who attended the program last year at the Beebe, Forestdale, and Linden schools interviewed local veterans about their service and memories of the war.
The 30-minute video now is part of the Veterans History Project at the American Folklife Center at the library.
“We saw this is a unique chance for our kids to study their own history for a national project,’’ said Karen Steele, director of the Partnership for Community Schools, which is funded by a grant from the state.
Middle schoolers Candela Diaz and Uoel Semere, from Forestdale, and Cheyenne Bryan and Evan Woods, from Linden, also went to Washington to present the video. “My Generation’’ is now part of the library’s archives, which are open to the public and researchers.
“I feel proud that the video is there, because it’s a pretty important place,’’ Parker said.
The eight veterans interviewed on the video are Frank Cucinotta, Chris Dracopoulos, Frank Goodwin, James Hanley, Lawrence Kinnon, and Phillip McGonagle of Malden; Michael Lynch of Medford; and Charles “Bud’’ Dasey of Winthrop.
McGonagle is the father of Patti Amirault, a teacher who runs the after-school program at Beebe. She got the idea for the oral history after attending the dedication last year of the World War II Memorial at Bell Rock Park.
“I looked around and saw all those proud veterans and their families,’’ Amirault said. “I thought, ‘We have to find a way to connect kids to them, so that their stories would be remembered.’ ’’
Sixth-graders in Malden study World War II. The after-school project was a chance for hands-on learning. They studied the war years in Malden, and visited the memorial at Bell Rock Park, inscribed with the names of more than 8,000 Malden residents who served in the war.
On the video, Dracopoulos discusses his service in the Army Air Corps, stationed in England. He spoke of his band, The Rhythm Bomb Shells, which performed at military bases there.
“It was an honor and privilege to serve my country,’’ said Dracopoulos, 86, a son of Greek immigrants. “But let me tell you, it was just as much an honor and privilege to be part of this project.’’
Others recalled surviving gunshots in the night, and staring down the enemy in battle. One veteran had never told his story before.
“We all just fell in love with the kids,’’ said Dracopoulos, who was interviewed by Parker and Savini-Burke. “They were just so excited. They were actually interested in asking the questions and listening to the answers.’’
Interviewing the veterans was the best part of the project, the girls said.
“I knew there were [veterans] like Chris, but I had never met one before,’’ Savini-Burke said.
“I really liked meeting all the veterans and hearing what they had to say,’’ Parker said. “It’s really sad so many people got hurt.’’
The video was screened last June at Malden High School. Led by a color guard, the veterans and students marched into the auditorium. They exchanged hugs and souvenirs the children brought from Washington. The audience of about 200 gave them a five-minute standing ovation.
“I tell you,’’ Dracopoulos recalled, “It was really something special.’’