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Students tour Nash Farm Park and Battlefield

By Valerie Baldowski

vbaldowski@henryherald.com

Some Hampton Elementary School fifth-graders took a break from the classroom to get a hands-on history lesson on Wednesday, courtesy of Nash Farm Park and Battlefield.

The students visited the site with their teachers, as part of a school field trip. Groups of curious children roamed throughout the property, listening intently as volunteers and Civil War re-enactors spoke to them on topics, including: Confederate money, warfare and artillery, and military requirements for marching into battle.

Re-enactor Andrea Dodd was on hand to read stories while dressed in period attire, and Vietnam veteran, Bob Van Dunk, escorted students on tours through Nash Farm's Military Museum.

The tours were co-sponsored by Friends of Nash Farm and the Henry County Parks and Recreation Department, and Van Dunk said he was happy to answer the questions the eager students fired at him during the tours. "I was so enthused to have so many questions," he said.

The questions the students asked included queries as to why the uniforms looked so old, what time period they were from, who wore the uniforms, and whether women's uniforms were on display in the museum.

The uniforms date from World War II to the present, said Van Dunk. One of them belonged to Staff Sgt. John Beale, the Georgia Army National Guardsman killed in Afghanistan in June.

Van Dunk said everything displayed in the museum is authentic. "All our uniforms are actual uniforms," he said.

The information he presented to the students on the sacrifices the soldiers made, he said, was apparently beginning to sink in, as evidenced by the feedback he began to receive after his presentation. "One child said, 'Freedom isn't free, is it?'" Van Dunk said.

Bill Dodd, husband of Andrea Dodd and a board member of Friends of Nash Farm, spoke to some of the students about artillery and warfare. Dodd said the tours help bring normally-dry topics to life. "We've had schools from Clayton, Fayette and Henry counties that come at different times of the year," he said. "They learn a lot about Georgia History that's not in the history books."

The students have an opportunity to see demonstrations at various stations, Dodd said, including blacksmithing techniques, displays of native American artifacts, as well as artifacts from the Revolutionary War.

He said, compared to the traditional way of learning -- reading from a book -- field trips, such as the one to Nash Farm, are more effective in helping students remember what they learn. "You retain about 80 percent of what you see," Dodd explained. "You only retain about 20 percent of what you hear, so if you get to see and feel and touch the history, you retain a lot more of it."

Lewis Robinson was putting some of the students through their paces, marching them back and forth across a clearing, ordering them to stay in formation, and commanding them to stay at attention while he inspected the line and the way they held their replica, wooden, Civil War muskets.

Robinson, a re-enactor since 1997, said his favorite part of re-enacting is "reliving the life and times of a typical soldier." The basic drill moves he reviewed with the children, he said, are an effective learning tool. "It's a better experience for the kids," he said. "It comes alive [and] off the page.

"It seems to be a great experience for them," he added. "They seem pretty amazed that a lot of the stuff I have is real and exactly the way a soldier would have it."