Christina O’Connor has been a social studies teacher at Hingham High School for 14 years.
And for the second year in a row, she’s also a student again: O’Connor is one of 18 middle- and high-school educators nationwide, and the only one from Massachusetts, chosen for “Understanding Sacrifice,” a program sponsored by the American Battle Monuments Commission. Teachers visit Europe or North Africa to research a World War II American serviceman or woman buried or memorialized in cemeteries there.
“It’s powerful and personal, this quest to find out about someone’s life and service,” O’Connor said. “They all have amazing stories; each loss creates a ripple effect that lasted and continues to last in their families.”
She went last year, researching Private Clark B. Allen Jr. of Marion, visiting his memorial tablet at Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery in Belgium. After the story of her visit ran in a local paper, she connected with the daughter of another Marion serviceman buried in that cemetery. She had never met her father.
“He’d gone off to war and she was born,” O’Connor said. “Here it is, 2015, and she never met him. That affected her whole life.”
Each teacher chooses an American to research. O’Connor will go back to cemeteries in Europe next July. She hasn’t chosen a service member yet but knows which direction she’s heading.
“I think it will be a woman,” she said. “I think I’d like to tell that story. A lot of times, we don’t realize there are women buried in those cemeteries. There aren’t many, but they all have stories and were very involved in the war effort.”
She has also researched Hingham’s part in the war, which claimed 30 men from the town. The town is famous for its shipyard, she said, but she was surprised to find there was also a large ammunition depot in the town.
Her research has made her a better teacher, she said, but also reminds her of something else.
“It takes me back to the work of being a student,” she said. “It makes clearer what I’m asking my students to do.”
Paul E. Kandarian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.