The donor behind the mortar shell on display in the Delaware County Historical Society’s World War I exhibit has yet another link to preserving Delaware County’s history.
David Tatum was a U.S. history teacher at Upper Darby High School and had also served two tours of duty in the Vietnam War.
During his tenure at Upper Darby, Tatum wanted his students to have a visceral awareness of the impact of the Vietnam War so he created a project. As part of it, each student was given a name of one of the 185 Delaware County servicemen who died fighting that war so they could write a biography of them.
The students would start by searching the casualty lists to find their addresses to get a picture of their home. Then, they were told to search through high school yearbooks stored at the Delaware County Historical Society Museum, Library & Research Center and find the obituaries on microfilm there to see what information they could gather.
They also were directed to search the Internet for details about their assigned person and they were told to interview any friends or family members of the servicemen who were willing to talk about them.
In a Main Line Times story, Tatum said, “As a teacher, teaching about the Vietnam War, I wanted my students to understand the cost of war … My students wrote biographies on all the 185 who died in the war from Delaware County. As a result, their stories and pictures are imprinted on my memory and I think about them every day.”
As part of the class project, the students also visited the Arlington Cemetery across the street from the high school to visit gravesites of some of those killed in Vietnam and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington D.C.
Even some students shared the profound effect this project had on them.
“Many people are unaware the life-changing struggle that occurred in Vietnam,” Jayvic Jimenez wrote in her report on Private First Class Donald Bruce Rees. “To the people who fought in Vietnam, they truly felt disrespected, sad, burdened, sickened in a way that separated the two generations.”
The student also wrote about how this project was transformative.
“As youth nowadays begin to realize the true struggle that plagued Vietnam before and after the war, they learn to appreciate and comprehend the pain and suffering that people went through,” Jimenez wrote. “I am one of those students. … When I had the bits and pieces of information on him, I then realized the importance of the person. This project opened my eyes into seeing the personal importance this project really is.”
The mortar shell David Tatum donated and the students’ biographies on fallen Vietnam War fallen heroes are housed at the Delaware County Historical Society Museum, Library & Research Center. The museum is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday and Friday; 1 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday; and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. The museum’s telephone number is 610-872-0502. Parking is free on the society lot behind the building or across the street in the municipal lot.
Membership in the Delaware County Historical Society ranges from$10 for students, $27 for individuals to $250 at the patron level. It includes free admission to the society’s Chester museum and library at 408 Avenue of the States, the society newsletter and preferred reservations and discounts for lectures and events. To join, please visit www.padelcohistory.org or call 610-359-0832.
The mortar shell donated by David Tatum, who assigned his Upper Darby High School students to write biographies of the 185 Delaware County servicemen who died in the Vietnam War.