Archived Story

Jack Strayer: How a teacher changed history for a grateful student

Published 10:05pm Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Ever since William Mitchell wrote about “My Hometown” on the op-ed page of the Niles Daily Star two months ago, I have been anxious to respond to his memories, observations and reflections about moving to Niles and teaching American history at Niles High School.

I am not sure where I would be today if I had not had Bill Mitchell as my American history teacher during my junior year (1967-1968) at Niles Senior High School.

It was Bill Mitchell’s class that piqued my fascination with current events and politics, and due to his teaching style, I pursued a public policy career in Washington, D.C.

In the fall of 1967, I was among his very first history students.

My most vivid recollection of his teaching instincts was a Monday morning in early February 1968, when he told us that a very significant event with great historical impact had occurred over the weekend.  He then went on to explain the “Tet Offensive” in South Vietnam when the Viet Cong of North Vietnam broke a cease fire and simultaneously attacked nearly every significant base and stronghold under U.S. control over a two-day period, Jan. 30-31.

Thousands of U.S. troops died during that winter weekend and the following weeks.

Bill Mitchell spent the next several days focused on the war, because he knew it was living history from which we needed to learn.

It was the Tet Offensive that eventually turned the American people against the war that ended after the deaths of more than 55,000 American troops, and led to the fall of Saigon and American defeat in 1975.

After the Tet Offensive, I would read everything in the Chicago Tribune, South Bend Tribune the Niles Daily Star, Time and Life to make sure I was prepared for every Monday morning current events recap that Bill Mitchell used to educate his students. Newspapers and periodicals became our textbooks.

He did more than teach us American history. He taught us to recognize that American history is happening all around us, all the time.

For that, Mr. Mitchell, I am forever grateful to you.


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