When they were not much older than your students, some 3.2 million young Americans were sent to Southeast Asia to take their part in the Vietnam War. Three decades later In the Shadow of the Blade undertook an effort to learn what had become of the veterans of that brutal, controversial war that lasted nearly ten years, killed more than 58,000 Americans, and left the nation divided. An iconic symbol of the war—a UH-1 “Huey” helicopter—was restored, then flown on a 10,000 mile journey across America to carry war veterans and families as a catalyst for collecting their untold stories and reflections.
The experience of being reunited with the machine that had last carried them to war was evocative for the veterans, many of whom had kept their experience silent in a country that had turned against both them and their war. When we asked them the simple question “what does the Huey mean to you?” they answered with powerful stories that capture a wide range of emotions and perspectives.
In the Shadow of the Blade offers your students an opportunity to see into the world of a war and its veterans, not from the traditional standpoint of battle maps, geo-political considerations, or dry recitations of dates and statistics, but from the very real, very human perspective of those who lived it. Infantry soldiers, helicopter crew members, nurses, Prisoners of War—all are represented in this collection of ordinary Americans who served the United States of America in its Vietnam War. Many performed extraordinary feats of valor and endured horrific hardships, and many others paid the ultimate sacrifice, leaving loved ones who still mourned for them decades later.
Though this film is particular to Vietnam veterans, many universal themes of war emerge: the enduring power of love to overcome adversity, the unflagging allegiance between soldiers in a combat zone, the triumphant endurance of the human spirit. Your students will see the lifelong shadow the war cast on the men who fought it, but they will also observe a deep and enduring pride among those who were called upon at a very young age to put their lives on the line for their country. Bonded by that experience in a nation that did not welcome them as heroes, many Vietnam veterans have found In the Shadow of the Blade to be a form of long overdue tribute.
This study guide offers a number of suggestions for ways you can incorporate the film into your social studies or language arts classroom. It includes a viewing guide to help focus students’ attention, a discussion guide, a further studies resource list, and suggested research projects that incorporate a “real-world” tribute project and a powerful personal connection between your students and their nation’s veterans.
The In the Shadow of the Blade study guide was developed with the assistance of master teachers Rebecca Stucky and Sandra Coker of Westlake High School in Austin, Texas. Their use of the film in conjunction with a study of Tim O’Brien’s novel The Things They Carried has evolved into an online collection of student tributes to our nation’s Vietnam War fallen. This impressive collection of student work that helps capture the history of our nation’s veterans can be seen at this website they have created. Many of these students have also contributed to the lasting tributes on The Virtual Wall.
You can use the film in its whole, or choose particular episodes to show your students. Whether you use In the Shadow of the Blade as part of a historical unit of study or as enrichment to literature, you can be assured that every participant whose oral history is included in the film was fully vetted through an exhaustive process that included review of official military records. The stories in this film are true, and they really happened to the people who tell them.
We hope that In the Shadow of the Blade will help your students make an authentic and lasting connection with those who served, fought and died in the Vietnam War. Should they have the opportunity to visit our nation’s capitol, they will find the film’s “star,” UH-1 091, permanently displayed in the Smithsonian Museum of American History, representing the Vietnam War in the military history exhibit “The Price of Freedom: Americans at War.”
We invite you and your students to share your ideas, projects and impressions on our blog and our on the In the Shadow of the Blade Facebook page so that our veteran community can see your work.
We wish you a successful and rewarding unit!
NOTICE OF EDUCATIONAL PURPOSE PERMISSION:
Arrowhead Films permits public screening of In the Shadow of the Blade by educational institutions for educational purposes. The film is available on DVD for purchase. A school may use the DVD for classroom or group viewing. DVDs may not be reproduced without permission. Printed materials may be reproduced for educational use. The online educational guide is provided for download at no charge.
IN THE SHADOW OF THE BLADE SUGGESTED UNIT OF STUDY
This unit will provide students with the opportunities to use non-fiction film, text, and primary and secondary source information to analyze information, synthesize content, make inferences, and draw conclusions as they produce a source-cited research product. It is designed to work well for history or English students at the secondary level. It assumes that students will have some prior basic knowledge about the Vietnam War.
If you can do so, inviting a Vietnam veteran or a panel of veterans to speak to your classes is an excellent learning experience for your students. Many veterans are very happy to do this, and these people can become “teaching assistants” to help your students with their research. See the below section “Vietnam veteran speakers” for suggestions.
A suggested approach is:
1. Use the short non-fiction reading “The UH-1 Helicopter: Icon of the Vietnam War” to help students understand the significance of the Huey helicopter. Check for comprehension using the five-question reading check.
2. Give each student a copy of the viewing guide as they view the film. The discussion guide will also work for this purpose, depending on your particular learning objectives.
3. After the class has finished viewing the film, use the viewing guide or the discussion guide as the framework for a whole class or small group discussions. End the discussion with an introduction to the research project.
4. Conduct the research project. Two research project options are offered: “The Stories Behind The Names” and “Background Vietnam.” You might allow students to choose, or make the assignment yourself, depending on your classroom objectives. Both are designed to get students involved more deeply in the subject; to build their research, writing and presentation skills; and to allow them—through oral presentation—to teach their peers. These activities can be executed through traditional and formal research papers or through multi-media presentations. “Background Vietnam” is more appropriate for traditional research, as more information will be readily available to students for longer paper requirements. The “Stories” option is an excellent multi-media project, and will inherently lead to a more personal connection for the student. Either can be accomplished individually or in small groups.
5. There are many ways for your students to share highlights of their work. They can present to the class, post a synopsis of their work on The Virtual Wall, or share with the In the Shadow of the Blade project through its website or Facebook page. If you have partnered with a Vietnam veteran or group of veterans, consider inviting them to see the presentations. Knowing that their work will have a wider audience than just the teacher is often a great motivator to encourage students to do their best work!
Vietnam Veteran Speakers in the Classroom
Inviting a Vietnam veteran or a panel of veterans to speak to your classes is an excellent learning opportunity for your students, and one which many veterans are happy to provide.
Where To Find Veterans
If you don’t know anyone personally, check with your community’s Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter, Vietnam Veterans of America chapter, Disabled American Veterans or Military Order of the Purple Heart Chapter. Organizations such as the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association can also help.
Preparing Your Speaker
It will be helpful to your speaker to tell him or her a little about your classes, such as their age range and what they have been studying. Provide as much information as you can about your goals for the session. Be sure to ask him or her to bring visuals—photographs that can be projected, uniforms, medals—these are the things that help bring the story to life for the students. (Be sure to remind them about weapons policies at your school, which might not allow even historic, unarmed weapons.) Be sure to give your speaker(s) information about where to park and check-in or other policies at your school.
Prepare Your Students
Tell your students that a veteran or veterans will be volunteering time to help them learn about their experiences and to answer questions. Establish clear expectations about the need to demonstrate respect for this person’s history as a one who has served the country in war. Students may be naturally curious about things that are uncomfortable for some veterans. For example, “how many people did you kill?” or “do you have PTSD?” are not appropriate questions, but “how do feel your war experience has affected your life since? is.
Your speaker does not have your experience with your students, and likely has limited experience before an audience of any kind, particularly adolescents. It is important that you participate as both a guide and, if necessary, an intermediary to ensure that the discussions stay on topic and that students who might “act out” are reigned in promptly. Moreover, you will not want to miss this: what a wonderful learning experience this will be for both you and your classes!