Thursday, June 14, 2012

Special Thanks to our Hosts

It has been a few days since the group of students, veterans and survivors returned to the United States. One by one, we have enjoyed hearing from them as they recall the highlights of the trip. Some reflect on specific locations, some on the relationships that developed. There are no complaints - only gratitude for an experience that has changed each one for the better.

This would not be possible without the professional work of Ray and Cristy Pfeiffer of Historic Tours, Inc. The Pfeiffers have hosted three such patriotic trips for College of the Ozarks, and have been operating commemorative tours in Europe for 29 years, focusing on the role of American forces in WWII. Ray is a lifelong student of the war. He and Cristy had a home on Omaha Beach, and have directed tours for the White House, Congressional delegations, and other institutions.

College of the Ozarks is blessed to partner with such knowledgeable and caring people. The Pfeiffers spend countless hours in advance of our tour to set up tours, special ceremonies, commemorative events, and more. They are well-connected with officials and leaders at every stop along the way. If you have a need, they will see that it is met.

Thank you, Ray and Cristy, for providing a trip of a lifetime for our students, and for treating our veterans and survivors with the honor and respect they so deserve. We appreciate your partnership with our patriotic program, and look forward to working with you again!

From the Keeter Center for Character Education
College of the Ozarks


Monday, June 11, 2012

The Greatest Generation

Ten days, five countries, four concentration camps and 34 lives changed forever. This journey began with three objectives: 1) to remember the fallen, 2) to honor the Veterans and Survivors and 3) to educate the students. We were given the task to facilitate, to sponsor and to negotiate this great adventure of historical discovery and revelation. As we all expected, while all these roles are important, our greatest role became to participate as history unfolded around us.

Whether we were designated as a sponsor, a nurse, a photographer or any of the other myriad of titles, we found our main focus in being present with the Veterans, Survivors and students. Participating in the Veteran and Survivor personal experiences proved enriching for our lives.

Our "Remembering the Holocaust" trip afforded amazing opportunities. This trip allowed Survivors to return to the camps where they were imprisoned for the first time since being liberated. This trip allowed a Veteran to meet a prisoner of the concentration camp he liberated...face-to-face. For many of the Veterans and Survivors, these experiences gave them a final sense of closure and healing to the thoughts that have wounded them for so long. This trip created life-long friendships between Veterans, Survivors, faculty and students.

One Veteran, Mr. Mickey Dorsey, brought along several magazine articles and pictures about World War II and the Holocaust for students and staff to read. A fifty year Holocaust commemorative article from US News and World Report (April 3, 1995) cites an article from Christian Century entitled "Gazing Into the Pit" which said, "the Holocaust shows 'the horror of humanity itself when it surrendered to its capacity for evil. Buchenwald and other concentration camps spell doom. But it is not only the doom of the Nazi's; it is the doom of man unless he can be brought to worship at the feet of the living God.'" As we seek truth, as defined by a Biblical worldview, this becomes our greatest commission in the war of ideas to prevent the next Holocaust. As Jesus said, " 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the great and foremost commandment.  The second is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 22:37-40 NAS) As we embrace these two greatest commandments, we protect ourselves and the next generation as we pass on these most essential truths.  

We are very fortunate to work for an institution that values patriotism and character and is willing to go above and beyond to instill those same values in the students. Thank you to College of the Ozarks for this wonderful experience and never-ending pursuit of Christ-like character.

We are also very blessed to participate in this trip with our Veterans and Survivors. It is such an honor to accompany real heroes to the places that have built and shaped our country. The freedoms we have to teach, work, live and even write this blog were fought for by these brave men.

As remarkable as the entire trip has been, the students have shown bright through all they have experienced. It was amazing to see them envelop themselves in the lives of our Survivors and Veterans. It was an honor to accompany fine Americans through these difficult places. The strength of their every action revealed the love of Christ.

We all feel very blessed to have had this opportunity to travel and experience history. In addition, we also are very blessed to be able to work with this exceptional group of students on a daily basis. Not only have we traveled and developed friendships with the greatest generation, we have also had the blessing and honor of teaching and mentoring the next greatest generation.

Paul Baker
Bill Gebhart
Gary Herchenroeder
Lisa Herchenroeder
Fred Mullinax

Saturday, June 9, 2012

A Thank You From One Generation to Another

Dearest Dr. Brent,      
You have changed our hearts forever. We will always treasure our time with you as some of the most influential moments of our lives. Not only did you surprise us with your witty sarcasm, but you blessed us with your sweet comments. Thank you for your honesty. Thank you for your guidance. Thank you for your lessons.      

Love always,
Sabrina Elliott, Michael Dickinson, and Emma Martin

Dear Chan,
Thank you for sharing your stories and being a wonderful teacher to us these past few days. It was an honor to walk with you through so many historical places and be a witness to your memories. You have permanently made a mark on all our hearts, and we hope we have done the same for you. Thank you for your service in the military, and fighting for us so we didn't have to. We will be sure to share your legacy with as many people as possible, so that what you have done for us is never forgotten!

We love you and hope to see you again soon!
April Van Haitsma, Grace Helms, and Sarah Unruh

Dear Hall,
Thank you so much for all the memories and stories you have shared with us. We are proud to have made a friendship that will last a lifetime. You have been a blessing to be around and have changed the way we look at history forever. We look forward to hearing from you more in the future.

With love and humbled hearts,
Austin Plummer and Bonnie Andersen

Dearest Gershon,
First of are phenomenal and we are so blessed to have you in our lives. We would not trade our time with you for anything because we have developed a relationship that is bound by something stronger than words. Your life stories are unforgettable and we cherish all that you are, past and present. Thank you for being such an influential man in our lives. We love you like family, Grandpa Gerk. We are both excited to maintain our relationship with you for years to come.

Ashley Bench and Trey Owens

To our good friend Gordon,
Thank you for the joy and wisdom you have shared with us over the past week. Your positive outlook on life has helped to keep smiles on our faces,  even as we witnessed the horrors of mankind. The time we have shared with you is forever planted in our hearts. We appreciate your service to this country and your stories will not be forgotten.  We look forward to seeing you in the future.

With Love,
Tara Paczowski and Ryan Meeks

Dear Mr. Spooner,
Thank you for joining us on this trip. You continuously told us that our lives will be changed when the trip is over and you are right. You have kindly opened up and shared your experiences of trials and triumphs. Your stories and passionate words have left lasting effects on our lives. We will take your experiences and share them with others so they can better understand the horrors and consequences of hatred. We thank you again and we hope to see soon in the future.

Alex Berner and Kari Jurgena

To Mr. Mickey Dorsey,
You are truly one of a kind. Thank you for all of the laughs, memories you shared of your past experiences, your willingness to participate in every activity, and the time you invested into us.  Thank you for your bravery in serving our country to protect our freedoms and for being an outstanding example of overcoming adversity. They say you learn from history only by experiencing it, and we believe you are one of the greatest teachers. Even when we return home, we will take a piece of you with us always.

Ashton Phillips, John Withrow and Alexis Schields

Golf Carts in Krakow

Auschwitz & Birkenau

Friday, June 8, 2012

I Wish I Could Cry

One of our guides told us students that we are witnesses to the witness. We felt the great weight of this responsibility in a very real way today as we walked through what Dr. Brent aptly called "the most terrible place on earth." As we drove into the massive complex that is Auschwitz, we were shocked by its size. The air was thick with the tension each of us held about the day: Survivors who had never been back, Veterans who liberated, and students who were ready to learn and share. None of us knew what to expect from this day.

As a group, we laid a wreath to honor those lost to the horrors of the Holocaust. Again, we lined up to hug our Survivors and Veterans, and the weight of their experiences was transferred onto each of us.

Today we saw what hatred could do, but we also saw what love can do. Dr. Brent shared with us the Jewish tradition of laying a stone on the burial site of a loved one as a way to honor their passing. He leaned down to the railroad track at Birkenau and chose a stone to place at his father's grave. He straightened up and muttered, "I wish I could cry."

In a way, this moment made us see our trip in a different light; just as in the Jewish tradition of placing a stone on the grave of a loved one, our Survivors are placing a stone on the grave of the Holocaust. They are laying down the heavy burden they have carried for over half a century. As they lay them down, we now carry the great privilege and responsibility of ensuring that these stories are never forgotten and that these atrocities will never be repeated. We refuse to let the stories of Dr. Brent, Gershon Ron, and George Spooner leave our memories.

This day was difficult; it brought tears, both of sorrow for the past and hope for the future. But today was an essential moment in each of our lives, one that we were chosen to receive. Seeing the gratitude and relief in the eyes of our Survivors and Veterans made every difficult moment worth the tears. It brings a great joy and peace to our hearts to see them at rest, knowing their memories are safely preserved.

"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." - Matthew 11:28 (ESV)

Michael Dickinson, junior
Sabrina Elliot, junior
Emma Martin, senior

A Survivors Discussion - Part 3

Holocaust Survivors (Dr. George Brent, Mr. George Spooner and Mr. Gershon Ron) discuss history and events surrounding the rise of the Nazi party and the effect it had on their lives.