D-Day For Class
By Don Brazeal
Students in Sherman Oyler's eight grade American history classes
experienced D-Day plus 30 today.
Oyler, who parachuted into the French Normandy countryside nearly
30 years ago has given his students at Jardine Junior High School
[Topeka, KS] a "You Are There" portrait of the Allied forces landing
in World War II for each of the last 16 years.
"I yell them what personally happened to me ... what I saw, what
experienced and what I smelled," Oyler said.
A complete explanation of War 2, as he calls it, would take a whole
course, Oyler said. Therefore with this war as well as other
major events, he tries to use a few vivid examples of history to win
Oyler's D-Day re-enactment includes classroom walls covered with
photographs, patches and medals collected from his war days.
He wears his uniform. displays food ration cans and lets students
examine other military hardware.
"It's a combination of showmanship and story-telling," he said.
"Once they get a little information about War 2, they can see it was
a struggle for survival."
"If you make American history interesting and entertaining,
students will work, they will read more," he said. American
history shouldn't be 'Dullsville''
Oyler's repertory of war stories catches the attention of
students, but he always emphasizes that war is not fun and and
games, "it is a nightmare," he said
Oyler was a Staff Sergeant in the 2nd Battalion, 502nd
Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, ad
landed in a French pasture on D-Day.
Among the D-Day highlights, Oyler tells about, is meeting Gen.
Dwight Eisenhower before leaving in a C-47 transport.
"Eisenhower wanted to meet some soldiers from Kansas so the shoved
me and another man from Wichita to meet him. " Oyler said.
He admitted he was nervous and almost forgot his name.
On another incident, Oyler jumped into a ditch to avoid mortar fire
after a parachute landing in Holland. He tumbled on
top of CBS Walter Cronkite, then a war correspondent.
Hanging on to a portable typewrite and with patches on each
shoulder saying "war correspondent," he (Cronkite) said some
things that you couldn't air on television, Oyler said.
Oyler and two other soldiers in the ditch simply could not
understand why anyone would be there that did not have to
be, Oyler said.
Years later Oyler wrote to Cronkite asking if he remembered the
incident. Cronkite replied he remembered the ditch
although he didn't remember the names of the soldiers, Oyler
Oyler said he "telescopes" other battles to represent action in
other wars. For example he uses the battle of Gettysburg to
help students study the Civil War. He provides them
with the personal experiences of soldiers who wrote about