'This is living history': St. Viator students interview veterans of recent wars for new book
As Madeline Dauphin listened to Craig Kopstain tell war stories from the desert battlefields of the Middle East, it felt like she, too, was right there with him.
"It really just made history come to life. I could picture the stories he was telling me in my head," said Dauphin, a St. Viator High School senior, who wasn't yet born when the Navy captain was working for Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf's central command staff during Operation Desert Storm.
Dauphin was one of 15 honors history students of the Arlington Heights school who spent months during the pandemic piecing together the stories of local veterans like Kopstain. The firsthand accounts of 11 area veterans, as told to and written by the students, are contained in a new book published this month in time for Veterans Day: "Arlington Heights' War on Terror."
It's the fourth book of veteran biographies written by St. Viator students; their profiles of those who served during the Gulf War and in Afghanistan and Iraq follows earlier books about World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans.
Dauphin and other students who were part of the book project took part in panel discussion Monday at Metropolis Ballroom in downtown Arlington Heights.
They said they felt a responsibility to do the local soldiers' stories justice. At the same time, many attested to the deeper understanding and appreciation they gained by working on the book project.
"This is living history. You don't really often get to talk to someone who experiences such important historical (events). It was really just enlightening. Much better than a history textbook," Dauphin said amid laughter in the audience, as she looked in the direction of her history teachers, but she added, "I'm sorry, I love your classes."
Dauphin and the other students largely conducted the interviews by phone and Zoom, since much of the work was taking place at the height of the pandemic. Amid those challenges, they initially encountered difficulties finding veterans willing to share their stories. As the history project was focused on America's most recent conflicts, organizers wondered if it would be too soon.
But Greg Padovani, chairman of the Veterans Memorial Committee of Arlington Heights, helped connect the students with veterans in Arlington Heights and the vicinity.
Padovani knows many of their stories but also knows the sadness of relatives who never got the full story of their loved ones' military service.
"Anybody who has any veterans in their families -- sit down with them. Ask them questions. Learn about where they served, even to the point of what unit (they) were in," Padovani said. "Those veterans are just wonderful repositories of history for your family and for the nation."
The new book retails for $10 at St. Viator's bookstore and soon will be available for purchase on the school website. The first three veterans books are out of print but are available for checkout at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library.