READFIELD — Looking at a 1940s photo of a courtroom, Maranacook Community High School student Samantha Cloutier asked, “Did they get tried together or as individuals?”

Samantha Cloutier on Wednesday at Maranacook Community High School in Readfield. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

The image showed the Nuremberg war crimes trial of Nazi political and military leaders.

“They were tried individually but sentenced together,” history teacher Shane Gower told Cloutier.

All of the Nazi leaders were convicted of war crimes, and all were executed by hanging.

“Unlike any other war in history, it felt easier to make the conviction because of the images that came out at the end of the war and the Holocaust,” Gower told his class.

This and 24 other World War II images hung around the classroom, and seniors in Gower’s History Versus Hollywood class had the task of interpreting the photos and matching them to captions.

They saw children in concentration camps, women loading ammunition rounds and soldiers both fighting and greeting one another — famous images that showed the war’s severity, stirring emotions in the students.

“We have these sugarcoated views of what happened in World War II,” said student Brian Shea. “Seeing the sheer nature of what actually happened was really incredible, and the pictures really outlined that.”

Gower is a teacher who doesn’t sweeten a history lesson.  

“He definitely tells it how he sees it,” Shea said, “and he presents it in a cool way to learn.”

Cloutier has had Gower for three or four classes, and the lessons always move her.

“He makes sure you understand by introducing it in a more interactive way,” she said. “He makes it so we’re never afraid to ask questions, and that’s helpful for me.”

Students take notes on what they think is happening in World War II photos posted around Shane Gower’s classroom on Wednesday at Maranacook Community High School in Readfield. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

Gower will soon have the opportunity to add to his World War II lessons.

He is among 50 educators from across the country who have been selected to travel to Washington, D.C. to participate in the Friends of the National World War II Memorial Teachers Network and Conference in July. He’ll be the first teacher from Maine to participate in the conference — now in its fourth year — according to Holly Rotondi, executive director of Friends of the National World War II Memorial, which hosts the program.

The application process for the program included writing an essay, and Gower’s really stood out, she said.  

“Shane’s love of teaching history, engaging his students and helping to bring history to life for his students resonated throughout his essay,” Rotondi said.

Shane Gower teaches a class on Wednesday at Maranacook Community High School in Readfield. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

The conference will feature presentations by educators and World War II history experts, along with discussions with veterans of the war. It will culminate with a remembrance ceremony at the World War II Memorial, where participants will commemorate veterans of that war.

Gower will memorialize his grandfather, Charles O’Rielly, who was in the U.S. Army at Okinawa, Japan, during part of the occupation.

“As a kid, I was always fascinated by my grandfather’s stories, not necessarily about the war but about life at that time,” said the Pittsfield native, who now lives in China. “Hearing those stories made me want to know more about that time and how other people were affected.”

The theme of this year’s conference is innovation and industry.

“The idea is that we’re going to design something for the curriculum that would be related to that theme,” Gower said.

He’s considering tying in the local shipping industry and canneries on the coast that played a part in World War II.

“I’m thinking that somehow Bath Iron Works will play a role in what we would be looking at,” Gower said. “I think there’s plenty of opportunity there for us to make some local connections.”

Following the conference, Gower said he and his students will undertake a service learning project over the next year. The Friends of the National World War II Memorial will select some of the ones done across the U.S. to be presented at next year’s conference.

Service projects are nothing new for Gower. For the last several years, he and his students have researched individual World War II soldiers — learning about the war on a personal level.

Hearing about this work, Korean War veteran Robert Goddard, of Richmond, gave Gower and his students a scrapbook documenting the career of his older brother, who served in World War II. Lewis “Frelan” Goddard was a member of the elite Jedburgh operation, where American special forces parachuted behind German lines to work with the French Resistance. Frelan Goddard died while he was parachuting in; Resistance forces recovered his body and hid him from the Nazis.

“The students were really inspired by this story and wanted to honor him,” Gower said.

They raised funds for a memorial for Frelan Goddard, now located by the flagpole at Maranacook Community High School.

“This was a community service project that fell in our lap,” Gower said. “I’m looking forward to another opportunity to do something for the community.”

 

Abigail Austin — 621-5631
[email protected]
Twitter: @AbigailAustinKJ

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