Tuesday, February 17, 2009

High Schoolers, a helmet, and a U.S. Army Medic

Welcome to the blog.

In 1971, Dennis Mansfield was given a Christmas present: an old WWII helmet. At the time, it was a sort of "inside joke" or "gag gift" from his dad, William Mansfield. Little did he know that this one simple "joke" would go on to move people's hearts, and create a trip that a group of High Schoolers would remember for ever.

"A.J. Malone, Co 'H' 16th med. Reg't, Ford Devens, Mass."
When I read this line for the first time, my heart skipped a beat.

My name is Colin Mansfield, and I am one of the 14 students involved in the helmet project. My dad teaches 20th Century World History at the school I attend, VCHSC. When he brought the helmet into our class, I thought it would simply be a kind of 'show and tell.' It was, of a sort, because this helmet went on to show me much.
As it turns out my dad had a different idea about the helmet. It was ludicrous, insane, impossible! The thought of our class being challenged to find the man whose name was written inside the helmet was simply unfeasible. A needle in a haystack came to my mind instantly. And yet, the idea compelled me. It compelled our class, I could tell from the energy in the room. And yet hesitancy prevailed. How on earth could we hope to find this "A.J. Malone"? But, partly because of curiosity, and partly because our grades depended on it, my 11th grade class embarked on this journey of a lifetime.

We spent about three to four weeks researching. Firstly, you should know that my school is different from most other schools. It has a unique title: "homeschool co-op." Basically, everyone goes to school on Tuesday and Thursday, and is homeschooled on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Kind of a cool system, if I do say so myself.
In any case, this format allowed for prolonged research at home. Mary Zimmerman was the first to finally make a breakthrough: she found A.J.'s army record through Google! Using the information found here as a springboard, we were able to delve further into Anthony's (for that is his name) past; find out about the man, the mission, and the mandate.

And so our research took off! Opportunities began to open up, and things happened right before our eyes! Jared Mercer and myself were able to locate the late A.J. Malone's family (he passed in 2000) and began making plans for the exchange of the helmet. At first we thought it would be nice if the family were to fly to Boise, but due to logistics decided it would be best if we were to travel there. At about this time the press began doing pieces on our story: first the Idaho Statesman, then Idaho News Channel 7. Suddenly our small semester helmet project was known by hundreds of people around our state.
From here, things were like a whirlwind. We continued our communication with the Malone family, and continued planning. The economy how it is, our class decided the best course of action to take this trip would be to seek donations from people willing to help. Ironically enough, Congressman Walt Minnick took it upond himself, after seeing our news pieces, to donate 300,000 frequent flyer miles to our cause, paying for nearly all of the tickets needed to travel the Malone's home state of Connecticut. From this, our story went national, being picked up by the Associated Press.
And so, here we are. It is now the night before the departure, and I can feel the tension building. Not in a bad way, mind you, but in a suspensful way. All the work our class has put in to the last 3 months is about to be put to the final test. All our planning, hoping, and praying is about to be taste tested, and the proof will be in the pudding.

Please join us on this blog for the next four days. My class will be posting pictures, tweets, text, and videos of our experiences while in Middletown, CT and the surrounding area. Thanks to everyone who has given their support, and God bless.

Colin Mansfield

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