MONMOUTH — Olivia Caron knew her grandmother, Crystal Guerrette, had served in the Army, but until she took on a U.S. Studies class project, the Monmouth Academy sophomore didn’t know one of the biggest reasons why she spent 28 years in the Army was to honor her father.

In an interview for a class project in which students asked war veterans about their service and experiences, Caron was told by her grandmother she had joined the Army, serving stateside as a medical nurse for 28 years including during Operation Desert Storm, to honor her father, who enlisted in the military but had to leave before his service was up to care for his mother who got cancer.

“She was proud to serve for him,” Caron said.

Caron said she also learned about some of the difficulties of being a woman serving in times of military conflict.

Students took the information they learned from veterans and did some research into what they talked about. They presented their research, in words and photographs and artwork, Monday night in “The Masks of War” presentation.

The masks piece of the project added an art component. Students were given plain face masks and told to paint them to reflect what they’d learned about their veterans’ experiences and how they had been changed by war.

Student Jessica Withee interviewed Dave Needham, a co-worker of her mother, about his service in the Navy during the Cold War, Grenada conflict and Persian Gulf War. The mask she did for the project included an American flag motif on one side with helping hands on it and 10 dots circling an eye of the mask surrounded by a blue sea. The mask comes complete with big ears on its sides, one of them with a heart inside it.

She said the helping hands reflect that Needham, who served as a sonar technician on submarines and later as a counselor, valued helping others; the 10 dots were for Needham’s 10 family members and reflected, she said, “the struggle of taking care of your family while still doing your job”; and the ears reflected that in both his jobs, he was a professional listener.

The heart in one ear, she said, was in part because the heart was on the same side of the mask as his family and because “he always says to listen to your heart.”

Social studies teacher Jocelyn Gray, whose own husband is a veteran of the war in Iraq and whose family has had many people serve in the military, said part of the inspiration for the project came to her after she read a National Geographic article about soldiers who suffered brain injuries from blasts in Iraq and Afghanistan and who, guided by an art therapist, painted images on masks to symbolize themes from their experiences, such as death, pain, and patriotism.

Students also read the article before doing their projects. Then they each interviewed a veteran, preferably someone they already had a relationship with.

Keith Edwards can be contacted at 621-5647 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: kedwardskj