Gena Oppenheim
Saint Ann's School (K-12)
Brooklyn, New York USA
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I have learned how physical artifacts, such as propaganda posters or World War II diaries can enhance any subject matter—from middle school theater students writing plays based on the descriptions in a Civil War soldier's letters to kindergarteners literally feeling history while wrapping their fingers through the fabric of one student's great grandmother's traveling bag. This tactile approach to teaching has made me a better educator in how I have sought to create an interdisciplinary experience between theater, film, and American history.

My other deeper connection to the study of World War II is the fact that my grandfather was a medical officer in both the European and South Pacific theaters. Although, like many former soldiers, he refused to talk about specific places or events that he witnessed, snippets of his World War II experiences often drifted into conversations: hearing a Benny Goodman song in a hotel lobby would prompt a brief recollection of seeing him play on a beach in France; watching an Orson Wells movie would prompt a memory of treating Rita Hayward for bug bites on a USO tour in the Philippines; and a busy beach on Long Island could make him suck in his breath and remark, "I never cared much for sand after Normandy."

These fleeting memories have always left me with a thirst to know more about his experiences during World War II.