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September 17, 2015

UMass Boston Welcomes Medal of Honor Recipient to Campus


  • Boston
Oral History Coursework Highlighted during Medal of Honor Convention Stop

LTC Charles C. Hagemeister met with UMass Boston students, alumni, and community members as part of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society’s annual convention on Wednesday.

This is the convention’s third time in Boston, but the first time an event has been held on the UMass Boston campus. Recipients of the nation’s highest military honor stopped at a dozen schools Wednesday, but UMass Boston was the only college stop.

Hagemeister received the Congressional Medal of Honor after repeatedly exposing himself to enemy fire in order to aid wounded comrades in the Binh Dinh Province in Vietnam. Hagemeister, who still works for the U.S. Army part time doing computer simulations, trains teachers as part of the Medal of Honor Character Development Program. He speaks to schools about such attributes as citizenship, patriotism, integrity, and self-sacrifice. He hopes students, and the UMass Boston audience, take away the importance of personal responsibility.

“We have a lot of kids out there playing with guns, and they don’t think about what the consequences of using weapons are,” Hagemeister said. “People don’t own up to what they’re doing, and that’s why we come out here and do this. We need to get the next generation to start looking back and say, 'I’m responsible. This is my country and I have an obligation.’"

Hagemeister also praised Assistant Professor of English Erin Anderson’s students, who in the spring 2015 semester interviewed five other Congressional Medal of Honor recipients and produced a 70-minute cell phone audio storytelling walk of war memorials in South Boston.

“We have to take our lessons that our veterans bring and put those back into the public so that we don’t lose that wonderful experience. Doing stuff like these audio [recordings] helps because all too often, the people out there don’t realize what the cost of business is,” Hagemeister said. “We need to take those stories and teach our next generation that they have a responsibility.”

Caleb Nelson ’12, ‘15, who served as an aviation electrician during Operation Iraqi Freedom, served as a teaching assistant for Oral History and the Veteran Experience.

“This opportunity was really great for me to hear from the guys who were actually on the ground, from Ryan Pitts who was there right as I was leaving,” Nelson said. “It was really an interesting sort of thing thinking back on that experience and remembering that camaraderie that I felt when I was in the military.”

Nelson and Anderson shared a portion of Staff Sergeant Pitts’s interview, in which the Afghanistan veteran talked about the courage of one of his fellow platoon members, who was killed in the attack in which Pitts was injured.

“I think about Jason Hovater. He was brave because he could say to our platoon, ‘I’m scared. I don’t want to die,’ but every time we go out there and every time we get shot at, he’d be right there, doing his job, and that meant something. It was more courageous that he could manage that fear, that he could still do what needed to be done. That’s courage,” Pitts said.

All five branches of the U.S. military were represented in the oral history class, some of whom are pictured below with Pitts, and Anderson says she felt just as much a student as the teacher.

“I came to this class with experience in oral history and digital storytelling and audio production, but with very little experience working with veterans and working with military issues so I learned so much through the class from the students. It was a real privilege working with them,” Anderson said.

The result of a collaboration with UMass Boston's English Department, Office of Community Relations, Office of Veterans Affairs, and WUMB-FM, the South Boston Medal of Honor Walk is available for download on iPhones and Androids. The audio interviews will eventually be available in their entirety on the University Archives and Special Collections’s Open Archives website.

The Office of Community Relations, Office of Veterans Affairs, English Department, School for the Environment, and the Information Technology Services Division also produced an online map showing Boston’s war memorials.