For most of his life, Andy Hill has loved history.
The Odessa American reports when Hill, a Wilson & Young Medal of Honor Middle School Texas and U.S. history teacher, was in college at Abilene Christian University, he had a chance to write a research paper on a group of World War II veterans from Stamford who became part of the 36th Infantry Division of the Texas National Guard.
Stamford is near Hill's hometown of Haskell.
Dressed in a World War II uniform and helmet, Hill recently brought the war and the times of the 1930s and 40s to life for his seventh grade Texas history students. He presented an oral history of what the men went through, what they were feeling, why they joined the military and the sorrow they felt at losing friends and members of their unit.
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Hill has a similar background to the group of veterans who all went to school together and worked on cotton farms. From the soldiers' point of view, he painted a picture of the Great Depression and how joining the National Guard meant they could get paid. They listened to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's addresses on the radio.
At first, they were just National Guard soldiers training on weekends, but as America got into the war, they became full-time U.S. Army soldiers training around the country, Hill told his packed classroom.
They were soon headed to places they'd never heard of before.
Initially, they fought for their ideas and for their country, but then they fought for the guy next to them. The group lost more than half its men.
"In a little town, that many men was a big blow," Hill said.
The men never lost touch with each other and made a pact to get together once a month and talk about anything except the war. They met for decades and every time, the group would get smaller.
Hill said he felt it was his responsibility to pass their stories on.
Hill, who also is pastor of West Texas Cowboy Church in Gardendale, joined the U.S. Marines out of high school.
He earned a bachelor's degree in applied studies in criminal justice from Abilene Christian University and attended seminary at the Logsdon School of Theology at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene.
Hill was a military policeman in the Marine Corps and served 11 years with the Abilene Police Department. His family then spent six years as missionaries with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board living in Costa Rica and then in Mexico.
He added that his wife is a Spanish teacher at Compass Academy Charter School.
"When we retired from the mission field in 2008, I went to work for the police department in Midland. I was a foreman of a ranch in Martin County for a couple of years. . I still can't decide what I want to be when I grow up, but I spent the last five years working for the Texas General Land Office, who are the curators of Texas history, in large part," Hill said.
". I worked for the energy resources division inspecting oil and gas leases for state-owned royalty interests, but my lifelong passion for history led me to finally take stock of my life and say, `It's time to start living out my passion in some way.' Teaching is the natural extension of my passion for history .," he added.
"I am a 53-year-old, first-year teacher," Hill said.
The seventh-grade students, which included some from another teacher's class, sat in rapt attention as Hill told the soldiers' story.
"It was very touching to know what those men had to go through," 13-year-old seventh grader Isabella Carrasco said. ". What they were going through, it's nothing you could imagine. ."
She added that the presentation was perfect.
"I'm in theater, so the whole theatrical part was amazing," Carrasco said.
Many times, Hill said, history is just words on a page to be memorized. The presentation was more emotional than Hill expected and brought tears to his eyes at some points.
"So my goal was to flesh this out and put the human face on it for these students. Having met and spent time with some of these World War II veterans that were part of the 36th division even made it a more personal experience," Hill said.