Vermillion, S.D. – University of South Dakota School of Education student Dustin Whitney will honor a Clay County fallen veteran in his keynote address at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Memorial Day Observance in Vermillion on May 28 at 10 a.m. at the First Baptist Church.
Whitney received the invitation as a result of his success in a community-based research project, Clay County’s Fallen. Students in USD’s Social Science Methods course prepare for their future classrooms by learning how to emphasize a human perspective when teaching about wars and historical research. VFW Post 3061 sponsors research projects in which students in the class uncover the stories of fallen veterans from Clay County and share their research with members of the community.
Whitney chose to write about Army Corporal Tommy Hendricks, a veteran who attended Vermillion High School and USD before he was killed in action during WWII at the age of 23.
Whitney began piecing together Hendricks’s story by investigating a variety of sources, including the Clay County Historical Society. He eventually came across his most illuminating lead when using Facebook to contact Hendricks’s relatives, some of whom are traveling from Texas to attend the service on Monday.
Through personal interviews with Hendricks’s family, Whitney became personally invested in Hendricks’s life. “I don’t know him but I feel like I know him, and I feel like other people need to know him,” Whitney said. “He was a funny person. He was liked by everybody. I want to have that as my underlying theme as I talk about how he grew up, his military life, how he died, and his lasting legacy to his family and community members.”
In addition to honoring Hendricks’s life, Whitney hopes that the address will inspire others to help uncover the elements of Hendricks’s story that remain untold.
“Every student showed extraordinary passion for this historical research, because they knew they were doing something bigger than themselves from the beginning,” said Jing Williams, Ph.D., an assistant professor at USD who created the Clay County’s Fallen program and teaches the social science methods course. “Because of my students, some of the fallen veterans’ stories are rediscovered and preserved in Clay County.”
The Memorial Day Observance will take place on Monday, May 28 at 10 a.m. at First Baptist Church in Vermillion, South Dakota.