The Transylvania Times -

Students Learn 'First Source' History At Veterans Museum


Last updated 4/19/2021 at 3:34pm

Freshmen and sophomores learn first source history from WWII Merchant Marine Harold Wellington. (Courtesy photos)

High school students Landon Stepp and Andrew Renegar were excited to find the Sept. 20, 1943, issue of Life magazine during their April 12 field trip to the Veterans History Museum of the Carolinas. These two sophomores are creating a 10-minute documentary for the national competition: "Communication in History: The Key to Understanding" for National History Day 2021.

The mission of National History Day is "Engaging Students and Teachers in Historical Research & Skills Development." (For more information, visit

Stepp and Renegar had been researching the Life magazine article and picture: "Three Dead Americans: How a Photograph Won WWII By Communicating the Casualties of War and Deepening Understanding of Home Front Morale." The picture was taken by Life magazine photojournalist George Strock. Approval to print this picture had to go all the way to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Life magazine article told the story of the Battle of Buna Beach (New Guinea) and was the first time pictures of war dead were shown to Americans. Before then, censors had used a heavy hand to prevent photos like this one from being shown.

Stepp and Renegar had used a depiction of this article found on the internet to conduct research for their documentary. But in the museum with help from their teacher Lisa Dillon, museum board member Larry Chapman, and curator Emmett Casciato, the students found the actual magazine, which has famously been given credit for changing Americans' opinions about the war. The museum has a collection of 416 Life magazines from 1939 through 1946.

Stepp and Renegar felt they had struck gold for their documentary project. With 23 other freshmen and sophomores from Great Expectations Home School of Henderson and Buncombe counties, they explored the museum's artifacts of World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Global War on Terror as a learning experience for their American history studies.

In addition, all 25 students received first-hand stories of WWII in the museum's Merchant Marine gallery from WWII Merchant Marine Harold Wellington. Tour guides Ken Corn (war correspondent in Iraq), Ray Pavlik (U.S. Navy veteran in Vietnam), David Morrow (U.S. Navy Seabee in Vietnam) taught the students about the uniforms, artifacts, weapons and stories given to the museum by veterans and their families.

School headmaster Dillon said, "We're here to enable these students to learn by first source and critical thinking. These are not stories from a book."

Board member Larry Chapman helps search for the 78-year-old Life magazine article with photos of soldiers killed in action.

To be able to learn from the people and their mementos who lived the history of America is a reason Dillon said she searched out a museum for her students.

The Veterans History Museum of the Carolinas welcomes student groups of all ages. Customized tours are available by contacting museum founder and curator Casciato at [email protected] or by calling the museum at (828) 884-2141.

Admission to the museum is free. The museum is open Thursday – Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and is located at 21 E. Main St. beside the courthouse in Brevard. For more information and living histories of veterans, visit On the website, you may subscribe to the newsletter to be informed of upcoming programs and events.


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