Salute to veterans: Stewarts Creek High ready for first theater production

Post date: Jul 28, 2015 5:14:53 PM

From Daily News Journal

Written by

Mealand Ragland-Hudgins

The Daily News Journal

SMYRNA — Rather than put on a well-known production for its first-ever performance, Stewarts Creek High’s theater department will use the stage to honor veterans.

The production, titled “Ordinary Heroes,” was researched and written by students using stories from the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project, along with a Story Corps, a Library of Congress partnership with National Public Radio.

Theater teacher Donald Fann thought students would gain more from researching and writing their own script, he said. It also gives the school a chance to give back to the community, as Smyrna was home to Sewart Air Base from 1941 to 1970.

“I believe the school should be an asset to the community, so this is a celebration of their service,” said Fann, who left his job as executive director of The Arts Center at Cannon County to lead the program at the first year school.

Performances are slated for 7:30 p.m. next Friday and Saturday, Nov. 8-9, in the school theater, located at 301 Red Hawk Parkway.

Students were given the opportunity to sift through the stories and select those they felt were the most powerful.

“I think they’ve been interested in the process, but there’s still excitement about the first of everything this year,” Fann said, adding that about 50 students make up the cast, crew and writing team.

Among the stories to be told is that of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, who served in the Army from 1961-75.

Hagel served in Vietnam with his brother Tom in 1968. The brothers were side by side as infantry squad leaders with the U.S. Army's 9th Infantry Division.

In his interview with the Library of Congress, Chuck Hagel said he initially had orders to go to Germany but volunteers to go to Vietnam instead.

“They needed their best people, and I didn’t want to be in Germany when there was a war going on in Vietnam,” Hagel said in his interview.

Other stories include a single mother who worked as a welder on the homefront during World War II, Fann said.

“It was the way she provided for her family and when the war ended, that went away,” he said. “There’s always a sacrifice when you serve. Sometimes that can be your life.”

The play does involved military cadences and humor to lighten the mood, Fann said. Stewarts Creek High Principal Clark Harrell has served in the Air Force since 1991 and was also a resource during the research process.

Seniors Skylar Raney and Collin Ballard portray 2nd Lt. Herbert Johns and his wife, Clare, a couple who married during World War II.

The husband and wife traveled together for five months in 1943 and communicated by letter until the soldier died in 1945.

“He was in the process of being sent to Japan and he said he was healthy but he ended up dying from leukemia,” said Raney, who transferred from La Vergne High. “The last letter she wrote him came back unopened.”

In her interview, Johns’ wife said she received her husband’s death notice before she got his letter stating he was sick.

“It’s a really sad story,” added Ballard, a Blackman transfer. “From reading his letters, you can tell he misses her. I just hope that I can make people feel that by playing Mr. Johns.”

Raney’s grandfather served during the Korean War, her brother serves in the National Guard and her brother-in-law is currently stationed at an Army base in Korea. Those ties, she said, makes the production much more important.

“It really hits home. These are things that could happen to any one of them,” she said.

Ballard’s best friend recently joined the military, making this performance special for him.

“When the show is over, I want people to appreciate what our soldiers have done. I want the soldiers to feel appreciated,” he said.