Fulton's Rotary Club met this past Wednesday and had two guest speakers — Westminster College Associate Professor of History Dr. Mark Boulton and 2020 graduate Kelsie Slaughter, who shared about their trip to Vietnam and the new Veterans Memorial and Museum at Westminster College.
Boulton was lucky enough to be able to lead a course based around a trip to Vietnam.
"My goal as a historian on the Vietnam War was always to go there, to explore," said Boulton, "but also to take students over there and give them the chance to learn the lessons of that war and that place."
In 2016, he took his first class to Vietnam and the visit was led by a group of veterans out of Texas; that gave him as well as the students the chance to see and hear the stories of those veterans who have memories and experiences from those battlegrounds.
"It was emotional with the veterans there telling their stories, where so many of them had horrifying experiences, but it was very enlightening," Boulton told Rotary Club members.
The trip was so successful that Boulton was able to take another group of students back in 2018. Slaughter was one of the 22 students who participated in the second-generation, 15-day trip to Vietnam.
For the class, the students had a capstone project. Slaughter decided to base hers off the seven alumni of Westminster who had been killed in the Vietnam War.
"As I was researching them, I kind of formed a bond with each of these young guys," Slaughter said. "They're about my age and just thinking about them being my age and going all the way to Vietnam, not knowing what they're getting into, was something that really kind of touched my heart."
While they were on the 2018 trip, the students honored the seven by placing stuffed Blue Jays, Westminster's mascot, at each location where the men lost their lives. But once the group got back from Vietnam, they felt like they needed to do more. They formed a committee and decided to create a more permanent memorial on campus.
As they started planning the design of the memorial, they gathered input from other students, faculty members, the ROTC program and the local VFW chapter. The first thing they all decided on was that a museum needed to go along with the memorial to give individuals context behind it, so they knew where it was coming from and why.
Next, they researched a location. They believed between Westminster's Hunter's Activities Building and the campus library in the now known Veteran's's Plaza was the perfect site. Looking at the design, they decided to go with a battle cross.
Around the memorial are four planters with poppies filled with soil from various battlegrounds where Westminster alumni fought. And finally, the memorial sits on bricks as a tribute to Fulton's Brick District and a way to memorialize Fulton and those seven men's stomping grounds from their college years.
As far as the museum goes, the idea was to broaden the story of Westminster's past and pay a tribute to all the military alumni. To start, a timeline of the school's military history covering the Civil War, World War I, World War II and the Cold War and beyond sit above two brass plaques paying tribute to the fallen that were put together by the secret society on campus in 1947.
Opposite of those is a case that highlights and celebrate the various forms of service that students and alumni have performed. The idea was to recognize a diverse experience. Lastly, there's a case that celebrates the ROTC program.
"I was fortunate enough to teach an entire class based around putting this memorial together," Boulton said. "It was a fantastic experience as an educator to do something like this for the community but also to see the very best of this generation.
"They are the ones that deserved the credit. I was fortunate enough to guide it in many ways, but the work was all them."
For more information on Westminster, the Veterans Memorial and Museum or events, visit www.wcmo.edu.